Clyfford Still Paper – Kristie Lopez

Kristie Lopez

January 28, 2012

ARTH 3539

Clyfford Still

After his fifty year career Clyfford Still’s paintings were hidden away for thirty years after his death in 1980. It was not until Clifford’s wife Patricia struck up a deal with Hickenlooper that a museum would be made here in Denver to showcase his 2,000+ pieces of artwork. Clyfford Still lived all over the United States and started at a very young age and through all of the changes that the art world has endured Still worked has also changed over that course. Over this time he did other things then just paint, he also taught for a large period of time. His first paintings were specific and detailed, they had objects that were centered and were the focal point of the piece. His earlier pieces had landscapes and people in them and what seemed to be a story behind them. The people that are in the painting are mildly distorted but still humanistic none the less. About ten years later his works changed and the objects and people that were the focal points of the piece started to be more obscure, fine lines and elongated features. The later works of his and arguably my favorites are known as Abstract Expressionism. They are indeed abstract, very different from his earlier works. He seems to be a very well rounded artist with a large range of works. They no longer had objects and made more use of the canvas and different techniques. There was areas that had a blank canvas which allowed for a different kind of focal point. There was some Abstract Expressionism that was for lack of a better term simple and some that was more complex. He used vertical canvases, dark tones, and chunky paint lines making the piece very thick and full of texture. If I see one piece of art that is his I can see a distinction and know what kind of artwork is his. Then I see a very different piece of his that looks nothing like some of his others that I have seen. He seems to have a grasp of many different styles of art that he picks up on. He also seems to change and evolve over time with the changed of not only the art world but the general world as well. His art is also very expressive of himself as well. At times in his careers he used a lot of dark colors and at other times he used a lot of vibrant colors. He used different strokes and canvases with a lot of blank spot and some where the whole canvas is covered. A lot of the darker pieces have a distinct almost unnoticeable spot of color. You learn more about the painting the longer that you stare at it. Over time you find new color and you find new patterns and create a different overall idea of what the painting is about. 

The first painting that I would like to talk about is one that was drawn towards the beginning of his career when he was in Washington.




This painting has a forefront landscape scene with a dark sky. Another thing to note is that there is a subject to this painting, a subject of two humans that make it clear that there is a story to this painting. The subjects in the painting all also have those elongated features, the long arms and the long faces. The painting is all about an action, the action of their working on the labor. The whole landscape itself is oddly also in the forefront rather then in the background. The reason that I chose to discuss this painting was the fact that it was very different from his later works and the pieces that get shown over and over. I also think that it has to do with a different life that could be his.

The next painting that I want to look at I think is my favorite that I have seen of his. it is sort of in the middle of the pieces that have a full focal point and a story all the way to the pieces that have no focal point at all and are also apart of the more abstract pieces. This piece does have a focal point of a being. It can not be said that it is a human and it can also not be said that it is not a human. It looks more like a dark being, it looks almost like a reaper.



This being also has the elongated features, the long fingers and the long face. The features on the face are also not as distinct as other features. It has sharp lines on the face and the eyes as a shadow, the bony cheek bones and the non existent mouth. It is hard to tell what the background is, it looks like it has a dark sky and the rest is rocks maybe even mountains. The rocks might be hiding the being body or that it is just a floating head and hand that is not connected to a body at all. The face in the painting is also looking down and as if he is looking at something and what that something is cannot be seen. It looks like it has something that it is focusing on all while we are focusing on the being. There is also another feature to the right of the painting that I do not know what it is or what it is supposed to be. There are a lot of features of the painting that are up for interpretation. The piece itself is also untitled so we get no answers even from the title. The piece reminds me that he might be someone who is watching over all that is going on.

The last painting that I want to discuss is one that shows off what Still can do as am artist and is a piece that shows off how much the art world has changed over time.



This piece was towards the beginning of his work in abstract expressionism and has all of the features of his late abstract expressionism but also uses some other features. The painting has the sharp strokes of either fire or what I think looks more like a type of ripping. There is a lot of the blank canvas that is unused but at the same time shifting to the paint strokes that are there. With out a focal point like in his earlier works we are able to focus on other features. Feature such as the colors that are used or almost hidden in the background and allows us to see the texture and the thickness of the paint. Within the strokes I see images that are not there and I see the blank canvas as something that was completely intentional at every aspect rather then just the parts of the painting that were just untouched. Up close you can see a stroke of colors that are not present when you see the painting in the distance.

All of the other supplementary tools at the museum were also great. A lot of great books that had his will and other analyses that help describe him as a person and there were books from other artists that help show how the art world all shifted together. There was also I puzzle the that you could build to create your own art work in what looks like his works. It was your color and piece choice but his shapes and strokes. Great experience.

3 Responses

  1. I enjoyed reading your paper, it was extremely detailed and described Still’s atelier very well. I think that though you hit on all of Still’s artistic styles, your paper would be much better if there were more paragraph breaks in the beginning and more of an organizational structure. I did love that you included images of the paintings you found most intriguing, that was a nice touch. What you say about his work is entirely true, though I think it would benefit from some more analysis on your part. While describing the abstraction, color, and so forth in the paintings is very important, the reader also always wants to know what the underlying meaning is — for you and for the artists. All in all, a good paper!

  2. Hi Kristie,
    I enjoyed your paper. I like how you gave back ground history on Stills life. I also liked how you divided up your paper into years for his art work! great job!

  3. A wonderfully detailed and creatively expressed description of your experience within the Still’s Museum and the life and work of the artist. You took time and made the effort to truly understand the artist. I agree with your apparent decision to omit any detailed analysis…it would be arrogant for any of us to see a few paintings and attempt an analysis…an egocentric pursuit at best, a display of ignorance at worst. You put your heart into this paper and it shows! Thank you!

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