Clyfford Still Paper- Andrew Garcia

Andrew Garcia

ARTH 3539

28 Jan 2012

Clyfford Still Paper

The Clyfford Still Museum contains a large collection of his work, which is organized in chronological order from his earlier pieces to his latest pieces. Still wanted his collection to be viewed together and he believed other artists work would be a distraction from his own. He felt that all artists should take on that mentality when displaying their art to the public. Still is one of the leading figures in abstract expressionism; he would use a variety of colors in many different abstract shapes in most of his work. Abstract expressionism was a large post World War II movement, which added the image of being rebellious and anarchic in the art during this time period. His earlier works consisted of more surreal objects and people. His later works were all great examples of abstract expressionism and Color Field painting. Color Field painting is method of painting inspired by European Modernism. It is characterized as large flat areas of a solid color. While viewing his work at his museum it’s easy to notice the change in Still’s style over the years. Till the late 1940’s his style was more surrealistic, then abruptly his style shifted to abstract expressionism and Color Field painting. Over the years art historians and other artists have mentioned that Still’s work is original and never can be duplicated. Still had managed to create his work almost effortlessly, and with that his work is world renown, unique, and envied by many.

The beginning of the exhibit consisted of his early works. The first work that caught my attention was created in 1936. It is a painting of two workers shucking wheat. The colors are vivid and applied generously to insinuate their hard work and suffering. He depicted bloody arms and soiled clothes on the workers. He also depicted their arms disproportionally long, to exaggerate the weight of the wheat, and the pull of gravity on their bodies. The longer arms emphasize the difficult job they have to do. The faces of the workers are not clear, and they are not accurate to an actual human face. However, the emotion of the workers is clearly shown with their facial expressions. The workers appear to be sad, tired, and worn down from all of their work; they are clearly not content with their situation.  The Great Depression was going on during this time period, which had a great influence over his work. Still felt empathy for the working class people, and the hardships they had to face every day while at work. This painting has many connections to other images of labor throughout art history. Clyfford Still managed to capture the laborers suffering in his painting, which overall gives this painting a powerful message. This painting is not an example of abstract expressionism, but is one of his early works when he was moving away from object based paintings, to his use of color and lack of an obvious subject matter. In this painting the subject matter is clear, and the theme is clear. Still begins his journey as one of the founders of abstract expressionism with his next work.

The next piece was created in the year 1949; more than a decade from the painting of the workers. This painting has no clear subject matter and no identifiable objects. This is a dramatic change from his last work, which could be easily interpreted. This background of the painting is a vivid red, and on top of the background are black shapes, darker areas of red, and some white blotches. The use of many different colors separates the red background, and makes the piece a lot more pleasing to look at. These black forms and blotches of white appear all around the canvas, not giving any specific focal point. The viewer cannot rest their eyes on any specific spot on the canvas. There is a lot of movement in this piece as the black forms are spread about the piece. Also some of the black forms appear to be rising to the surface and diving below. The texture of this piece shows Still added many layers of color and he wanted the paint to drip in certain areas of the painting. Still also did not smooth out some parts of the painting, which clearly shows the brush strokes he did. This piece is a much better example of abstract expression, which Still is famous for. The most powerful theme of this piece is the boundlessness of the shapes and colors used. The shapes do not stop at the borders of the canvas, which imply that there is more to this piece, or that it is never ending. Still’s childhood of North Dakota could have played a major role in inspiration of such an endless artwork. With the large fields and open plains of his hometown. The use of a solid red for the majority of the piece signifies the start of his shift to Color Field painting. In the first work mentioned, there was not any use of a solid color background, and now with this piece the use of red is predominant. The darker red areas the main areas that split apart the canvas, and add another color to the background.

This next piece has an almost all black background, which is split apart by a large vertical line splitting the canvas almost in halves. The black background has some areas that are darker than others, and these darker areas are centralized around the vertical line etched in the painting. This painting is one of the largest paintings Still has done. It is roughly ten feet high and twelve feet long. Once again texture is unique and shows the brush strokes and pallet knife marks all throughout the composition of the painting. There is a long yellow line that goes across the left side of the painting, which again implies the boundlessness factor of his work. There are light shapes across the canvas, but they are difficult to see because of the dark background. This piece is pure abstract expressionism, there are not any definite objects and the viewer is left to interpret the painting as whatever they want it to be. This is also another example of Color Field painting; it has a solid color background with little distraction from it.

Clyfford Still began his period of abstract expressionism art around the year 1944. This was a clear shift from his previous style which was more surrealist. He would incorporate long limbs and disproportional people in his earlier paintings. The images he would paint resembled people, but had minor alterations in their faces and limbs to distort any accuracy. Still than shifted his style to being more abstract with little to no recognizable figures in his artwork. During this shift, he would have many vertical lines tightly packed together in his paintings. Still had mentioned the vertical lines in his paintings represent life, while anything horizontal represented death. This ties together a lot of his artwork because many of them contain at least one vertical line. As the years pass on, the vertical lines he would depict would spread further and further apart, till there was only one vertical line in some of his paintings. This could represent many things, maybe that Still’s life was coming to an end, or his presence in the art world would end. The climax of his popularity was in the 1970’s, and he passed away in 1980. From his first artwork to his last, he was going through an ever changing style.

Clifford Still has been called the “King Tut” of our time, which is a perfect example of how famous he became, how revolutionary his artwork was, and how inspirational he was to many artists today. From his artwork described earlier to his mass collection in his museum in Denver, it is easy to see the change in his style, change in composition, and the change in contemporary art as we know it. The three pieces discussed clearly show this shift from surrealism to abstract expressionism; a shift from clearly defined objects to blotches of color, to a lack of shapes all together. Still’s artwork represents ever changing life, and he has forever changed art in the world today.

2 Responses

  1. Andrew,

    I can tell that you really dissected and analyzed the paintings when you saw them. I’m wondering if you have pictures to show which ones you are discussing? Or the painting numbers? That would be a great asset to your paper.

    I do think overall your paper could benefit from more paragraph breaks and a little more proofing.

    You have incorporated a lot of information into the paper concerning Still’s life, which is great for showing how his works are what they are, and I can see that his work had an effect on you.


  2. Andrew,

    I like how much attention you put into describing the pictures you were using for this paper, it was almost poetic, but still formal and descriptive. I think a little bit more detail to the finishing paragraphs would behoove you but I would agree with Shanna’s suggestions as well.

    Anna Cook

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