Robby Gomez-Clyfford Still Paper

Robby Gomez

The Clyfford Still Paper

The Cyfford Still Museum is a very unique phenomenon among the art world with how it became into being.  In Clyfford’s will, he sated that he did not want to leave his works for an individual or to be sold to museums, but in fact he wanted to donate most of his works to an American city.  When Denver was chosen, the establishment that came to be the Clyfford Still Museum received 94% of Still’s works.  Many of these pieces had not been seen for 25 years.  It’s location right next to the Denver Art Museum makes it very accessible and the city of Denver has a rare gift that few cities experience.  The layout of the museum is very simple.  The first floor is dedicated to teaching the audience about the painter and his life.  Videos and interactive computers allow audience members to see what was going on personally in his life, as well as the world around him.  It discusses his influences of his work, as well as the utensils he used to create his paintings.  These displays even have cloths and baseball gloves that belonged to the artist.  The second floor is dedicated to show his work and his evolution from his early work to the paintings made right before his death in 1980.

If one is familiar with Clyfford Still and his work, it is very easy to spot an early piece of his to his later pieces.  When Still first started to paint and sketch, he would depict landscapes and cityscapes.  What I like about Still’s early works is that they would not focus so much on the detail as much as the emotion of what he was portraying.  Many of his works would focus on farmers and their struggles with living off of what the earth provides them.  During the 30’s, the depression was in full swing and farmers were struggling with the dust bowl.  Many of Still’s subjects of his pieces are distorted, bloated, their faces are elongated, and their arms and backs are portrayed with such a heaviness that his viewers really get a sense of the darkness that surrounds these people trying to survive.  In PH-77, the paintings subjects are two farmers that are bent over picking up wheat from their harvest.  Their arms are stretched out and bloodied as they handle their product, while their faces are left with exhausted expression.  The sky above them is dark while the horizon behind them is empty.  I found myself staring at this painting for a while because my attention was drawn to it from the moment I stepped into the room.

The next section of his work was focusing on his paintings from the 40’s.  In this period of his works, Still begins to move away from noticeable subjects and starts to depict shapes and colors that play with the canvas.  This was period was marking the start of Still’s abstract art, but was not yet his definitive style of his color field paintings.   A lot of his pieces in this section of the gallery were dark and haunting, while few of them had bright colors and recognizable figures.  Some I even found a little disturbing.  There was one work that really caught my attention however.  In PH-553, I immediately thought of impressionistic works of Monet because of the texture of the piece.  Still’s brush strokes are light and crisp.  It almost looks like a figure sitting on a bench, and I feel like I can see a source of light in the image.  The gold or yellow crescent shape seems to radiate the white paint surrounding it, but then the piece fades to a darker grey, and even black on the bottom.  I love this piece because I can see they way he worked his brush on the canvas, almost unveiling how he created this image.

The Gallery after his works in the 40’s started to depict his early works of the abstract expressionist viewpoint, and even his color field style. During this time, he has abandoned all possible subject depiction, and now he is in full experimentation of using colors, canvass, and how to interact them both to make his final image.  The evolution of his style is starting to create larger pieces, and most of these paintings from this point to the time of his death are really large, leaving a commanding presence on the viewer.  What I love about his style during this time period is not just the immensity of his work, but the way his work spills outward as if it wants to leave the confinements of the canvas.  The texture of his pieces really show and the thickness of his paint.  In some areas the paint has been smoothed, but in others the paint is left in gobs adding little imperfections that give more character to his work.  PH-247 was the most unique among the collections in this gallery.  Almost the entire surface was smooth, which left a resilient shine to the piece as the light hit it.  It reminded me of a Barnett Newman style, because it was primarily one color, with lines of different colors running down the dominant color.  Standing close to these paintings is really a really helpful way to get swallowed by the image.  There seems to be no end to the flowing contrast of the dark blue.  I felt like it was expanding constantly, an illusion brought on by the size of the painting.

The final two galleries of the museum focused on his work from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.  The transformation of his first abstract work and his works from this period are astoundingly different.  You can see how he liked to leave the canvass bare in some parts, or even in most of the painting.  The colors are more expressive because they are used less in comparison to his earlier works.  In some pieces, his colors are playing with each other in the sense that they will not cross paths, almost like they are stuck in their own boundary.  Other paintings do not use much paint at all, which is shocking how Clyfford Still can have a monumental piece, and not have much paint on it at all.  I look at it as he is making the canvas make more of a statement than the paint he puts on it.  I have never seen another artist create such an allusive relationship between the canvas and the paint.  Since I have already discussed three paintings, I will simply insert a painting from his latest style before he died.

Clyfford Still had a lot of impact on the art world not just because of his impressive style, but also because of the attitude he had towards the art world itself.  He often shied away from exposing his pieces in galleries, and had tremendous pride in his work.  He clashed with fellow artists, which eventually led to his dismissal of his work being shown in many galleries.  He was fed up with the art word and eventually moved to Maryland on an estate where he could focus entirely on his work.  Clyfford hated his work being categorized and one aspect that really shows up in his pieces is his confidence of himself.  When I looked upon his paintings, I see his brilliance, his arrogance, his genius, but above all, I see his passion of what he loved doing most.

4 Responses

  1. Your observations are very detailed and careful, I think you describe Still’s paintings in the way that he would have wanted them to be seen. His work is meant to be concentrated on and thought about, not just quickly glanced at, and your paper shows that you spent time with each one.

  2. I also loved PH-247. It was between that abstract piece and the one I chose to write about. I agree with you that it engulfs the viewer. It brings us into the world of the artist for the moment. I loved the blue color with the slight darker contrast. This really was one of my favorite pieces in the museum. Its size took over the room and I could have sat and looked at it for awhile.
    A critique, only because I have to, is that you need to proof read one more time because there are repeated words and small errors like that. But other than that I have no real critiques on your writing and I agree with your views of the works. Its also cool to know that someone else thought the same way as I did about PH-247.

  3. Robby-

    I find it really interesting that a lot of us used his earlier painting of the two farmers. I know it was one of my choices for my paper, too. I think that one must have really caught all of our eyes for one reason or another.

    The last painting that you posted a picture of was my favorite in the entire exhibition. I sat there, on the floor, for what seemed like the longest time, wondering why I was so attracted to it; then I read your post. You said “The colors are more expressive because they are used less in comparison to his earlier works. In some pieces, his colors are playing with each other in the sense that they will not cross paths, almost like they are stuck in their own boundary.” I think you explained that perfectly! Reading those two sentences summed up my attraction to the piece perfectly. Thanks for helping me figure it out! ;)

  4. I too felt like I was being swallowed whole by each painting. Regardless of the emotion it conveyed, each painting successfully made you feel it to the fullest extent. I really appreciate how much detail you invested into interpreting each piece as well. Bravo, sir.

    But just to reinforce one of the comments made before mine, if I had to critique you upon anything, you might’ve had somebody else proof-read your paper before you submitted it. You know, just in case you made some trivial mistake by accident.

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