Clyfford Still

After visiting the Clyfford Still Museum, one can understand a bit more about abstraction and expressionism. I am often reminded of my earlier art classes where the teacher or professor would focus more on realism and if anything was abstract in any way, it would result in a poor grade. So, when I began to research about Clyfford Still for this class, I soon became determined to learn more about abstract expressionism perhaps to be rebellious of these previous professors.

Early works of Clyfford Still began to show his idea that life is linear. Even the museum’s architecture shows this linear idea. When I went to the museum, I began to feel this idea even when there wasn’t even a painting near me. The walls look like the same texture and as linear as his paintings which psychology made me feel taller.

Obviously, with Clyfford Still’s career being around 50 years, his style had changed more and more. He learned to express more in his paintings with less paint on the canvas. However, my personal favorite era of his career would be around 1930-1950s.

One of my personal favorite paintings of Clyfford Still’s would be PH-751. This is one of his first paintings where he starts to go abstract and less realistic. This painting is dark which gives off a very emotional vibe of sadness. Yet, looking at it, one could see and admire its mysteriousness that the subject in the painting gives off. The subject in the painting isn’t proportional or gives much to the idea that PH-751 is a painting of a person. Yet, there are hints that this is a person. Clyfford Still highlights body fragments like a femur, an eye, and the abdomen of this subject. The rest is very dark colors which make the highlighted parts stand out even more.

Clyfford Still painted PH- 751 in the late 1930s, early 1940s. This time in the United States, the economy had started to get out of the Great Depression. However, the economy had a “recession” where unemployment had increased once again to its original numbers at the beginning of the Great Depression. This painting shows the Depression a great deal and if the subject could, the subject would be crying. This recession seemed greater than the Great Depression had been; people had started to feel hopeful about leaving the Great Depression in the past.

Another painting that made me stop in my tracks was PP-7. The person doesn’t look like a real person but drawn out which shows Still’s linear thought about life. Its a composition which we talked about Tuesday. There is a specific place that your eyes go to; the center. Older paintings of Still’s melt this composition where your eyes cannot stop at one place of the canvas.

The painting was finished in 1935 which was during the Great Depression. It shows a person’s hard work, determination and the extreme tiredness one had at that time. This painting is a documentary for the emotions that many people had experienced in 1935.

As I started to leave, I stopped by the small gift shop (for lack of a better word) in the main lobby. A curator went and asked how I liked the museum. I told him my love for the earlier works over Still’s later works. He told me how much he agreed with me and asked if I saw the bottom area where things like some of the smaller paintings, Clyfford Still’s painting tools and the letters Still wrote.

After I had expressed the affirmative, he then showed me a seminar room in the far back corner of the building. Inside was a painting that was shown in the movie that we watched during class on Thursday. It took my breath away up close. Since it was in the seminar room and not part of the exhibit, there wasn’t a number or name of the painting but it would be plausible that the number would be around PH 70-80. It was the painting of a woman sitting against a wall and a man laying with his head in her lap. This was just beautiful to me. It showed the horrors of the Great Depression. However, this painting also showed the love and devotion that people had to their families. Also, this beautiful painting showed that no matter how bad life was for people in the 1930s, they still had their loved ones.

No matter how much I have been rebellious in nature against my past professors and teachers, I have learned a great deal through Clyfford Still on how a painting can express what the artist is thinking while they were painting. There is a definite want to learn more from Clyfford Still and the other Abstract Expressionism artists.

4 Responses

  1. Megan! It is interesting how you interpreted the museum to coincide with Still’s work. I never took that into consideration. The architecture compliments the art in its verticality. Its fascinating to think of how the museum functions with the work, especially one that was built specifically for Still’s paintings.

  2. Megan,
    I definitely agree with you in liking Still’s earlier works over his later ones. I had a very similar experience to yours at the museum and was also drawn in by the similar paintings. I find your experience in the seminar room particularly interesting and really wish I had the chance to see that painting you described up front. The use of dramatic brushstrokes and color in that piece look amazing.
    -Nell

  3. Thank you so much for your feedback on my paper. Your paper clearly illustrates a personal connection to some of the artist’s works. Your experience at the museum offers a unique perspective, in that you interacted with someone who is directly involved with the institution.

    You may find it helpful to decide on a distinct argument that you want your papers to make. Then find visual or textual evidence to support that argument. The rest will likely fall into place. A strong thesis guides a paper like a rudder does a ship. Once I turned in my paper, I realized I could have made my thesis even more directly related to what I discussed in the paper.

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