Clyfford Still Paper

Clyfford Still Paper

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  1. I know this isn’t a comment to your paper, but I’m having difficulty posting my paper. Sorry to use you!

    Grace Irvine
    Contemporary Art
    Kira Van Lil
    January 30th 2012
    Clyfford Still Paper
    “My work in its entirety is like a symphony in which each painting has its part”- Clyfford Still
    Clyfford Still began painting at age 15 in the year 1919. Still began firstly with pieces that reflected truth, such as his painting “Field Rocks,” followed by his more industrial period. Still mixed his own paints using linseed oil and turpentine, and utilized both paint brushes and palate knives in the creation of his masterpieces. Studying Durer, Dali, El Greco, Gauguin, and Cezanne among others all influenced Still’s creative process, and literature covering these artist filled his library. Still was greatly influenced by cultural events that occurred during his life such as the Great Depression and World War II; each of his pieces from the GD era to WWII are culturally relevant based on their severity and tone.
    The Still museum is organized based on location of Clyfford Still throughout his life. His artistic style development is seen vividly through the construction of the curatorial layout as well as the function of the architecture to each canvas he created. Starting with the timeline that was located on the first floor of the museum, Still’s prolific art period followed the pattern of cultural events. He created pieces that were documented as being: industrial, Great Depression era field paintings, the Nespelem collection, amorphic and organic shaped palate paintings, his woodcut (whose style was reflected in his collection from the early 40s), figurative model paintings, his fertile period, repetitive shape studies, and his manipulative use of raw canvases. All of these series are seen through the curator’s eye as being fluidly presented from one era to another based on location; Canada, Washington, Oakland his first abstractions, San Francisco, New York City, works on paper, and Maryland.
    Still’s first pieces follow an extremely color-oriented path, varying in textural paint experimentations as well as agreements on scale; the majority of Still’s pieces from 1925-1930 can be analyzed by his use of triangular calibration in his canvases. His repetitive control of primary colors is evident as being experimental in his pieces featuring his “…chiseled planes of intense color and desire for monumental grandeur.”
    As the collection continues, the obvious abstract expressionist influences Still becomes evident as his style drifts from an almost Dali-en experimentation to that of Munch, and further to that of his fellow contemporaries of Pollock, Rothko, De Kooning, and Motherwell. Towards the end of his career, Still’s painting style has veered into that completely of his own, still retracting to the roles of the monochromatic scale and primary color experimentation, however branching into a direction entirely new and experimental.
    The first piece of Still’s I chose to describe was that of his Industrial collection. His piece PH-623 from 1929-30 shows a bleakly manufactured landscape with that of a storm cloud in the background. To quote Still, “these are not paintings in the usual sense they are life and death merging in a fearful union.” I find this quote extremely relevant to this particular painting of Still’s due to the evident impact of the dim and industrialized lifestyle he seemed to be encompassed by in the barren prairies of Alberta, Canada. Placed next to a similar portrait of a technically streamlined landscape, the two pieces can be compared as almost being summer and winter; the reminiscent lightning strike in the left-hand corner of the canvas creates a dramatic stir in the audience.
    The granulated landscape clearly shows Clyfford Still’s passion for detail; each canvas stroke is seen with detail in the cloud above the omniscient blue structures painted like a figure in the center of the depiction. The graduation of emphasis in light to darkness is accentuated by generous flat knife gestures and cloud like structures that draw the eye inward in an aesthetically direct monotonic creation. In his early creation Still’s affiliation towards red, blue, and yellow is extremely evident, and the use of white and grey to offset the dramatic scope of the cardinal colors.
    I greatly appreciated this piece in the industrialized collection created from 1925 to the early 30s set in the bleak eastern Washington state and central Alberta, Canada. I found his later pieces particularly disturbing, especially the ones that featured amorphous human figures against austere landscapes including barbed wire, mud, and wooden fence posts. I found this era of Still’s to be prolific yet disturbing, and I thought his earlier pieces such as his collection from 1929-30 to be particularly thoughtful and dedicated; I came to the realization that his later pieces were a direct correlation to current economic situations yet I found them to be bleak and rather unnecessarily dark. I did, however, come to acknowledge his graduation in style in the short amount of time he produced his field related studies.
    The second piece I chose to analyze was PH-554 from 1942. In this era Still manipulates the theory of organic shapes; he manages to master the use of primary colors in his pieces, but these colors are now used to accentuate rather than to be the focus of this collection. In this year, Still is considered equal to his contemporaries, and having studied Pollock, Rothko, De Kooning and Motherwell, I have a deeper appreciation for this particular segment in time. Still continues to use themes from his industrial period such as elements of vegetation and farm tools, yet his study of the human figure has morphed into a more abstract understanding of shapes. Still said “The figure stands behind all my work,” and this quote is particularly relevant to this series. Still continues his pattern of utilizing primary colors, yet he now blends monochromatic figures into each canvas.
    This particular art piece features three defined ‘square’ shapes that stand strong against muted backgrounds of taupe, white, and black. Like others, in this painting the use of blue and red are evident, however the blending use of the black creates a well of dramatic pull that makes the colors pop against the background of the canvas, which is painted a disjointed taupe and white. In this period, Still has introduced heavily encrusted canvas surfaces to act as more aesthetically appealing backdrops to his constructions.
    While the ‘figure’ in this painting is questionable, the eye is drawn to a light line carved in the center of the black anomalous cipher. This creation could mirror that of a body or could just be used to offset the burgundy and cerulean that creeps out almost like arms on either side of the central structure. Taking Still’s quote into consideration, when standing back from the image an understanding of the human form comes to mind and is appreciated as being that of imaginary genius and creativity.
    I chose 1951-B (PH-247), 1951 to be my final analyzed piece. This piece was created just before Still’s withdrawal from the art world, during his era where he truly wanted his pieces to ‘surround the audience.’ During this period he greatly experimented with size, and this canvas was one of his largest to scale. Still said “It’s intolerable to be stopped by the frames edge” and this is particularly prevalent to this piece. 16ft wide, he utilized the edges of this piece as both a start and finish to the fragmented images painted on the deep bluish black background. This piece is a powerful, rich, and dramatic demonstration of color; the cerulean and matte black are evidence of Still’s dedication to shocking gestures on his canvases.
    This was by far my favorite out of all of Still’s pieces, I found his use of color groundbreaking and I thought his fragmented use of matte and shiny textures to be extremely aesthetically pleasing and interesting. Much like his earlier industrial pieces, his experimentation with lightning like jagged shapes eloquently break the background and create a rift that is so raw and ethereal that they seem to leap forwards and seize the audience with an unseen before depth and clarity. The structural organic figures in this painting seem to blend yet jump simultaneously, creating a cautious element of surprise to his incredible expanse of canvas. I greatly enjoyed seeing his charcoal like palate strokes that show a careful determination of blending the blue and black in an almost three dimensional way; I could wholeheartedly connect with this piece.
    Overall I greatly enjoyed my experience at the Clyfford Still museum. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy his early pieces featuring the amorphous human figures and his industrial laborious paintings; I found them both disturbing and unnecessary, however I appreciated their function to the museum and the necessity of them to the overall curatorial collection based on Still’s location. I found the architecture of the building to be the most fascinating element, I loved the bare gray concrete walls and the natural light let in from the herringbone style ceiling. While I understand that the structure of the museum was not the focus, I found the layout of the galleries to be extremely well organized and aesthetically pleasing when paired with Still’s art pieces.

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