Nell Pollak Clyfford Still Paper

The art world transformed tremendously post World War II. A new style of painting developed called abstract expressionism. The group of artists that followed this new style crafted non-objective, abstract pieces. Among one of the most renowned abstract expressionist artists of the time was Clyfford Still.

Still’s paintings consist of a lot of emotions with the use of exceptionally expressive brushstrokes and strong uses of color. Prior to visiting the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver I knew very little about his work. I was familiar with Still’s name as a renowned painter but did not know a whole lot about his art.  I am very pleased with the experience I had at the Clyfford Still museum. It was nice being able to explore a timeline of Still’s history as an artist in the historical timeline upon entering the museum. I find it especially interesting that Still’s work didn’t get to the peak of it’s fame until after his death from colon cancer in 1980. Prior to his death he granted rights to the possession of his works to an “American city” to exhibit and study.

The first thing I learned upon entering the Clyfford Still museum was a brief history of the post-war era and of the creation of the museum. I was immediately welcomed in with a short film on Still. After watching the film, I had a general idea of Still, his work, and of the museum. After, I walked into the first room where there was an epilogue and a historical timeline of America during and after World Word II leading to Still’s movements in art. I thought the timeline was a very fundamental part of the museum because it provided a context for Still’s work.

After obtaining an understanding and background for Still’s work I went on to actually seeing Still’s paintings. I was extremely fascinated with what I saw. I thought the chronology in Still’s 50 year career was remarkable. From room to room, or year by year, Still’s work transformed and progressed tremendously with the abstract expressionist movement.

The first piece of art displayed that drew me in is titled “PH-77.” This piece appears to have two male farmers with elongated arms and washed out faces picking up scraps of some sort of hay or wheat. The intense brushstrokes and color in this picture are the elements that initially pulled me in. Also the surreal forms such as the arms of the men also drew me in. After reading about this piece, I learned that this was one of his earlier pieces that depict Still’s interpretation and deep empathy for people suffering during the time of the Depression. Still used such dramatic colors intentionally to portray his strong feelings.

The next piece that really drew me in is titled “PH-343.” I found this piece particularly interesting because its peculiarity in the form of the figures depicted. There is a definite progression from PH-77 to this work towards abstract expressionism. This painting at first glance looks like a saggy old man playing some sort of intstrument. I thought this piece was especially interesting because it took more time to dig into the underlying meaning of it. Still’s intentions of this painting were divide man from machine or industry. The left of the image represents the industry and the right represents the man.

As I moved on to some of Still’s later work I noticed a steep progression in his abstract expressionistic ideas. The piece that really drew me in that embodies more abstract expressionistic ideas is titled “PH-118.” I literally stood in front of this painting for twenty minutes I was in such awe. Though this piece is very simplistic looking at a first glance, you can tell there was a lot of thought and value put into this piece. From each brushstroke to each color used, you can tell from seeing the enormous canvas upfront that Still put a lot of time into crafting this. I liked seeing the use of the bare canvas as an expressive device. I also think this painting wouldn’t be as impactful if it were smaller than the enormous size that it is.

I enjoyed observing nearly every single one of Still’s paintings at the museum in Denver. I was very pleased with the organization of the museum as it guides you through Still’s history as an artist. One of the aspects I found most interesting of Still’s paintings was the expressive surface variation he created using different coatings or applications of paint. I also enjoyed looking at his use of intense colors to dramatize his work. I am really impressed with the craft of Clyfford Still’s work and am very much inspired to learn more about abstract expressionism because of him.

One Response

  1. I like how you bring us through your entire experience at the museum. It makes for a good story and it also allows us to see what you saw in the art. Another thing that I liked about your paper was how you related the man to the industry through multiple pieces. Its a great inference and shows that you understand Still’s work.

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