More art history lectures

Three lectures on Clyfford Still’s Western roots are coming up at the Clyfford Still Museum. You can review one of them for class requirements.

March 29, April 19 and May 17, 2012

More information here.

Minimal Art and Clyfford Still

I’m a studio arts major for photography, and in photo 2 this semester my professor, Albert Chong, has been referring to me as a “formalist.” I’m drawn to many photographs that he dislikes; photographs that have no apparent content or meaning, but are formally successful and aesthetically beautiful. I feel like minimal art is similar to this idea, and that is why I enjoy it. It’s simple. It doesn’t need to have some deeper meaning, you can just look at it and appreciate it for exactly what it is. I felt similarly about many of Clyfford Still’s completely abstracted color field murals. For me, the experience was about the visuals. The way the colors made me feel, which areas protruded and which receded, the weight and composition of the painting, the encompassing nature of the sheer size of the canvases. I’ve never viewed any minimal art in person, but I can imagine based on the class slides that my experience would be similar to the one I had with some of the Clyfford Still paintings. I thought this connection across two drastically different styles of art was very interesting.

Georgescu-Clyfford Still

Dora Georgescu


Clyfford Still Essay

Clyfford Still: From Representation to Liberation


Described as the most anti-traditional of the Abstract Expressionists, Clyfford Still is credited with laying the groundwork for this art movement that emerged in the years following World War II (Sandler).  His work is characterized by a shift from representational art to abstraction and ultimately strives for the expression of freedom and the liberation of the viewer. Continue reading

Clyfford Still Paper (Nicole Avant)

Nicole Avant

ARTH 3539

Clyfford Still Paper

Clyfford Still was born on November 30, 1904. Over the course of his 76-year life his painting style changed drastically. As the roaring 1920’s turned into the Great Depression and then into World War II Still’s paintings changed. Like many painters of his time he turned to the traditions of Abstract Expressionism, which included large scale painting and all over composition. In reality, Still and the others were simply reacting to the volatile and catastrophic landscape that they were living in.
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Clyfford Still Paper – Speare

Clyfford Still’s journey through art and painting is one that is characterized by the actual or the narrative transforming into the abstract. At the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, CO, you are able to follow Still’s work through each of theses stages. Still’s earliest works had a more somber, literal approach to human beings or figures in general. This approach was prevalent in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. His human figures, while it is obvious they are human beings, have actually been replaced by ominous, almost nightmarish figures.

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Clyfford Still’s effects on my psyche

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Clyfford Still by Sonya Rivera

Clyfford Still is generally regarded as a master of his time, specifically a leader and founder of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the United States. Continue reading

Clyfford Still Paper

Emily Potter

January 31, 2012

ARTH 3539

Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still

            Clyfford Still was named to be one of the top Abstract Expressionist artists of the twentieth century.  His paintings began obvious in meaning and apparent in inspiration with shapes and figures the audiences’ eyes were familiar with.  Gradually becoming more familiar with his own style Still began to slowly transform the shapes and figures into something more “somber and complex” in approach.  Human figures began to transform into creature like shapes and becoming ominous in quality. In the 1940s, Stills art continued to advance in inventive and highly original ways transforming into the paintings we now know as Clifford Still’s.  The museum provided an overview of the artist’s imagery and his dramatic stylistic progressions during his fifty year career.  Continue reading

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.

Lucas Grund — Clyfford Still paper


Clyfford Still

Clyfford still, whose bodies of works are most likely unknown to most people, myself included, was truly a master of the abstract expressionist movement. The lack of exposure was because of his views towards art and the art world that he developed over his life within it. He withdrew himself from the world and the institution of art as he grew older and only very sparsely gave his works to museums and galleries. Continue reading

Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still was an important figure within the abstract expressionist movement and his career spanned nearly all of the 20th century. The abstract expressionist development was a post World War II art movement that achieved worldwide recognition for American artists. Although the work of Abstract expressionists varied, the style was consistent with a monumental scale that depicted abstract forms with expressionist brush and color work. These compositions conveyed themes in relation to creation, life, struggle, and death in a manner that psychologically invested the viewer.

 Still was born during 1904 in North Dakota, and started painting at an early age. His work displays an evolution of style, beginning with representational compositions and moving into pure abstraction. His early work explored the depiction of western life through the representation of figures, buildings, and machinery in his imagery. His semi-early paintings were particularly interesting to me. Ph-20, painted in 1936, depicts several abstracted forms existing and melding as a single subject in the composition. Human-like forms are contrasted by machine–like shapes and hint at the relationship between man and machine. The limbs are elongated and enlarged and faces are hardly recognizable. “Unlike the many upbeat images of labor made by diverse American artists during the Great Depression, Still seems committed to revealing the physical, emotional, and even psychological effects of hard work.” (Clyfford Still Museum) By depicting the figures using rough color, anatomical abstraction and coarse brushwork he taps into a conceptual representation of the effects of hard labor on the body and mind.

“By 1936-37, he began to simplify his subjects as he moved closer to abstraction. Passages that’s once described anatomy or landscape now reappear as carefully executed arrangements of line, color, and interlocking shapes.” (Clyfford Still Museum) By the late 1930’s his figures began to disappear into the background. His paintings became more abstracted with age and I found his sculpture work to be a blend between his representation and abstraction. PS-2, created is 1943, is an abstract wooden sculpture. The composition reminds me of his older paintings depicting juxtapositions of farm life and the human figure. The shape of the wood is similar to the way he abstracted the anatomy of the body. The rectangular head, with a notched out eye, is perched upon a fragile extended neck protruding from a roughly carved body. This abstract representation is complemented by two other wooden sculptures. The other two didn’t evoke the same relationship I saw between PS-2 and Still’s early painting.

By 1943 Still’s work was moving in the direction we now associate with abstract expressionism. 1943 marked a successful point in Still’s career when he landed his first solo exhibition. His paintings were expressing themselves on a deeper level. “Still built up his palpable, evocative surfaces through the use of trowels and palette knifes. His use of intense colors, ranging from blood red and blaze orange to powerful browns, yellows and pinks, is highly unique.” (Clyfford Still Museum) As his abstraction evolved, Clyfford Still began to influence other first generation abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. A very important Legion of Honor exhibition in 1946 made audience and critics alike breathless. First came shock and admiration to the raw vibrancy of his painting. Still had a strong relationship to his work and felt his “…paintings have the rising forms of the vertical necessity of life dominating the horizon. For in such a land a man must stand upright, if he would live. And so born and became intrinsic this elemental characteristic of my life and work.” (Clyfford Still Museum) This realization dominated is persisting work and inspired him to create and express the inner concepts of emotion rather than representational compositions.

PH-1049, executed in 1977, is the latest of his work in the gallery, done only 3 years before his death. The 9×13 canvas displays a monumental scale of primarily negative space, occupied by bare canvas. Still’s reserved use of color makes the jagged yellow and red brushwork pop against the unpainted void. “Since the Renaissance, artists usually arranged their compositions to focus attention to central subjects, which were often set against deep space. Still began to favor flat, ‘allover’ compositions in which the viewer’s eye never rests on any single image. This work appears boundless, as if the image extends beyond the canvas. Similarly, it is also filled with movement, both across the surface and between the foreground and background.” (Clyfford Still Museum) I resonated most with this piece because it sparked a curiosity about the artist’s psyche. I am curious if and why Still considered this painting complete? The amount of unpainted surface makes the areas of color tantalizing and valued. I guess abstract expressionism can be infinitely perceived and that is what gives Clyfford Still’s work a life of it’s own. “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.”

Wall Text, Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO.

Clyfford Still Paper – Jackson Ellis

clyfford still_jackson ellis

Predating even Jackson Pollock’s iconic drip paintings, Clyfford Still’s breakthrough paintings would be the first and foremost examples of a genuine American art movement: abstract expressionism. His unique colorfield paintings led to a monumental shift in the way painting was perceived as a medium, an accomplishment only fully recognized after his death in 1980. Still’s remarkable discovery was possible only after many long years of experimentation and historical circumstances. However, it is impossible to deny that Still was working with the concepts that would later define his most prominent works from a very early point in his long and successful career.

Born to a farmer in Grandin, North Dakota, 1907 Clyfford Still lived in several extremely rural locations including Spokane, Washington and then later the great open expanses of Alberta, Canada. During these formative years, Still spent most of his time working the farm with his father or painting the great lonely expanse, broken by the occasional grain elevator or plume of train smoke rising to the sky. It was this harsh landscape and meager living that had a radical influence on Clyfford Still and his early work. In one such piece, PH-782, a painting depicting vertical grain elevators in stark contrast to the horizontal land, it is possible to recognize a sort of regionalist style prevalent in the depiction of rural landscape and agricultural architecture. Already using his distinct pallet knife technique to create chiseled planes with intense color, these early architectural works would later arise in abstract forms reminiscent of this same sense of space and composition. As Still grew older and attended art schools, his paintings began taking on more social concerns and would begin to reflect influences from surrealist and American Regionalism styles, not to mention the historical times he was living in.

When the U.S. stock market crashed in 1929, artists all over the country would feel the devastating effect of unemployment, however, Still was lucky enough to be attending college at the time and continue his education regardless of the social upheavals. Despite his apparent security, Still’s work from this time reflects the social and working conditions encountered in this era and depicts human subjects becoming one with the tools they work with. Having been attending college he was now more in touch with the art world than he was during his earliest years, resulting in some striking similarities to other art movements at the time. For example, looking at the work PH-414, a work created in 1934/35, there are clear ties to Grant Wood’s iconic American Regionalist 1930 painting, American Gothic. Both works incorporate figures looking directly out to the viewer in a frontal and centralized composition, however Wood’s work emphasizes similar forms in the people and the tools they are holding (the pitchfork for example is echoed in the stitching of the farmer’s overalls) to emphasize the region while Still instead chose to emphasize the psychological aspects of his figures by painting them with exaggerated features. For Still, painting was not a way to reproduce the world around him (in short, the European tradition), rather he would paint to emphasize the emotional feelings regarding his subject. As a result in his many paintings depicting farm workers he cast them as elongated, emaciated figures, worked tirelessly until their faces have grown long and their bodies have begun to show bones peeking through thin flesh. These works would reflect the psychological conditions encountered by many during the Great Depression.  Still’s initial fascination with an emotional depiction of human forms was to be his first foray into abstraction with his series of works depicting the workers becoming one with the tools they use. Two works from this era seem particularly telling in how Still began conceiving his ideas in a more abstract way. In PH-343 (1937) a diptych composition juxtaposes man, a soft conglomerate of flesh and bone shapes against machine, a dense linear composition of elements taken from farming tools. While initially separate, these two subjects would then combine in PH-753 (1938), in which the organic bone-like shapes become part of the linear conjunction of lines in a vertical composition. This last aspect of verticality had already manifested itself in Still’s work from the 20’s and again in the 30’s when his figures became looming towers in defiance to predominately horizontal features. It was around this time that Clyfford Still began to develop his style-defining exploration of the relationship between life and verticality, death and horizontality.

As Still grew older, his work followed suit. His recognizable human forms began to morph into more totemic symbols, reminiscent of bones and other ritualistic forms. It is clear that Still has begun to work with an aspect that has been present since his earliest work, the vertical. Despite a darkening of his color pallet, Still’s work from the 40’s still retains sculpted swaths of bright color, thrown on with his signature pallet knife and his subject matter has simply taken another form. In one such work, PH-751, painted in 1944, Still has completely abstracted his totemic forms, reminiscent of his earlier work with machines and the figure, into a sense of architectural space rising into the sky. Also reflected in this painting is Still’s development towards irregular swaths of color, seen towards the center of this work in the rising, jagged edged plumes of color. At this point in his life, Clyfford Still had begun to achieve great things as an artist, taking the art world by storm with his earliest colorfield paintings, exhibited at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in 1946. These works, right on the cusp of Still’s true breakthrough would inspire the first generation of abstract expressionists such as Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell. However, Still was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the art world and its critics, despite his apparent popularity.

Abstract Expressionism was just reaching its peak in the 1950’s with artists such as Jackson Pollock, De Kooning and Mark Rothko (a close friend of Still) taking center stage, in essence becoming celebrity artists. Still however, chose to avoid the praise as he felt that his work was not part of any school of painting or movement for that matter. It would be this decision that eventually led to his withdrawal from the art world in 1951. Unfortunately for the art world, it was also during this period that Still would begin to create his most prolific works. PH-118, painted in 1947 would mark the beginning of total abstraction and the end of identifiable figurative forms. In this piece, a black flame of paint rises up from the corner to confront almost angel-like figures that seem to be flying in battle around the swirling darkness. Almost biblical in its depiction, the painting is more than a vague scene, it contains an emotion. This aspect is what makes Still’s work so monumental, he was able to translate the emotional feeling into non-representational images that have the power to affect people from diverse backgrounds.

During his absence from the art world, Still continued to paint, albeit without the restrictions imposed by a movement and without critics to comment on his every brushstroke. These later works would occasionally be seen in small contributions Still made to various art museums across the country, but never would the full scope of Still’s will to paint be exhibited until after his death in 1980. While Clyfford still may have joined the eternal horizontal, his works remain as powerful vertical testaments to the human condition of life and deat

Clyfford Still and his artwork

How Clyfford Still Changed Over Time

Clyfford Still Paper-Romney Smith

clyfford still paper

ARTH 3539

Clyfford Still Paper

Romney Smith

January 28, 2012

Annie Davis Clyfford Still Paper

When one thinks of the Abstract Expressionism movement, the first artist to come to mind is Jackson Pollock. However, there are many great artists that stood beside him and helped shape the art industry during this decade. These artists broke the mold for what people commonly found to be “art” and introduced a completely new way in which to create and conceive art. Moving away from imagery in which the viewer could clearly denote a subject, these artists made pieces that eradicated such schools of thought and had no clear subject at all. One such artist is Clyfford Still, whose work proudly stands in its own museum in Denver, Colorado. Continue reading

Clyfford Still Paper- Rocio Ramirez

Rocio Ramirez
ARTH 3539
22 Jan 2012
Clyfford Still Paper


The Clyfford Still museum located in the core of Denver’s art district is home, to obviously, some of the many Clyfford Still masterpieces. The work spans from pieces such as his imposing self portrait painted in 1940, to his more representational paintings like PH-77 done in 1936, all the way to his more abstract expressionist pieces like PH-129 done in 1949. This spectacular museum is structured in a opposing dualistic way, in that it encapsulates both timelessness and a sense of avant-garde, which perfectly sums up Clyfford Still as an artist.
The museum is set up in a very deliberate manner, no doubt designed in accordance with the artist it was named after and whose work it houses. The museum is neither extravagant nor unemotional, but rather serves to invite in exploration. Art is something that is seen cynically, and even more so with abstract art, perhaps mostly due to the indirectness of it. But this building serves to message that one must enter open-mindedly, and patiently give time to each and every piece. The interior is open and brightly lit, again echoing the welcoming atmosphere introduced by the exterior architecture. The white-gray walls and circular patterned ceiling create a pragmatic layout, both appealing to a regular museum patron and the occasional attendant. Then it begins, one slowly meanders through the Clyfford Still museum, quickly loosing track of time.

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