Clyfford Still Paper

The Clyfford Still Museum
Clyfford Still was born in North Dakota in 1904 and soon after he was born he moved to Alberta Canada with his parents to work on a farm. Still, is hands down one of the most prominent and spectacular artists of the 20th century. Clyfford Stills works change and morph throughout his time as an artist, from the mid 1920’s through the mid 1970’s. Though he has a massive body of work Stills objective to connect to the viewer remains present in all of his work. In 2004 Stills wife donated a large number of Clyffords’ paintings to the city of Denver to be housed in a permanent museum. To say the least Denver Colorado is extremely lucky to house such an extensive body of work that reflects the life of Clyfford Still.
The building housing the Clyfford Still museum is itself breath taking. The contemporary outward appearance of the building compliments the art that lies inside immaculately. Heather grey wooden logs stand vertically to make up a boxy high-tech outward appearance. As you walk up the stairs your eyes immediately hit a massive classic color painting of Stills. But as you walk around, and your eyes begin to adjust to the blasts of color in the paintings you become aware of the carefully placed electrical lighting and the natural lighting that filters through the ceiling. Every room is perfectly designed to house specific works of Clyfford Still, the layout of each room is obviously well thought out. One of the first rooms you walk into on the left hold some of Stills earliest works that range from the early 1920’s to the early 1930’s. These were dark years for Still, as he was greatly affected by the hard labor of working on his parents’ farm and the pressure of the great depression. The lighting in this room reflects on the gloomy dark feelings that you get from these paintings. Moving through the museum and forward in Clyfford Stills life the natural light brightens the room and the paintings become more cheerful with splashes of bright colors and plenty of space to move about freely. One of my favorite pieces done by Still was done in 1935.

The piece is a small drawing of a naked man with four horses behind him. The lines are simple and clean, and the presence of abstract expressionism is not quite present yet. The small horizontal lines in the background make up an eerie landscape. I love how this drawing is so simple and you can really see that this is the foundation that Still lays to build the rest of his work upon. It is interesting how the mans’ face in the drawing mimics the long shape of the horses behind him. I interpreted this drawing as a self-portrait of Still in his early life working on his parents’ farm. Its clear he is becoming weary of life on the farm, he is ready to move forward with his life and his art. The long dragging face of this man is a motif than can be seen in almost all of Still’s work, even in his most abstract paintings.

My second favorite piece is this oil on canvas done in 1938.

I think this piece, as of most of his work in the mid 1930’s clearly shows Stills transition from identifiable shapes to the classic abstract color works that Still produces for the remainder of his career. Stills’ long signature faces with the deep sunken eyes and cheekbones are visible in the brown rocklike shape in the center of the painting. Here the viewer can also make up his or her own story, you can ask yourself, “is this a portrait? A landscape? Is it a portrayal of a specific memory, or has this image simply come from Stills imagination?” This piece was placed in the gallery right before a room filled with abstract color paintings. I thought it was the perfect place for it as it clearly shows a shift in Stills work.

A third Piece that caught my attention was this yellow oil on canvas done in the late 1950’s.

When I reached the final room in the museum it was bright and felt light hearted. It was filled with abstract color paintings that Clyfford Still is most well known for. The paintings reflected a time in Stills life when he was free to do what he wanted and was already a well-known figure in the art scene of New York and San Francisco. This yellow painting stuck out to me because the moment I saw it, I had a vision of it hanging magnificently in my future living room. Though this will never actually happen, my longing to own it still lingers in the back of my mind. With all the paintings in this room, I was blown away by the variation in color. At first glance black seemed black and blue, just solid blue. As you move forward and examine the paintings closer, it is clear to see the enormous range of shades in what appears at first to be just one solid color. Vertical veins of bright color crossed horizontal shapes of dark matter, making the paintings jump to life.
Entering the museum and surveying Stills tools, it becomes evident that the vehicle central to his life and art was paint apparent by the jars of powdered pigment that he used to mix his own paint, trowels and palette knives in place of brushes. As with many abstract expressionist works, a picture can truly not do these paintings justice and I feel privileged to have been able to view them in person. The use of color and texture in Stills work comes to life as you meander through the gallery and are able to use more than your sense of sight to take in these larger than life paintings. As you close in on the sizable pieces the quality, consistency, appearance, and feeling jump out at you. Although you can not physically touch them all these features come together and before you know it your eyes are taken on a journey, initiated by the miniature mountains of inconsistencies and texture that symbolize Clyfford Still’s art. “I never wanted color to be color, texture to be texture, images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit.” -Clyfford Still

2 Responses

  1. I really like how you, along with a lot of other students included a lot of Still’s work within the text of your paper. It adds a more in depth explanation as the reader can view the painting as we read what you wrote about each one of them. I think with a lot of the paintings when you were describing them it could of been a lot more helpful if you discussed the dimensions, textures, colors and more in-depth talk about the painting itself rather then how it made you feel.

  2. I was looking over a few other papers and none of them (including mine) mentioned the exhibit’s building itself. That was a great idea, as the building was incredible! It was simple enough that the focus was undoubtedly the pieces themselves. But it was awesome how it fit the massive paintings.
    I really enjoyed your paper and the photos you included!
    -Megan Keith

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