Friday, June 15, 2012

Clyfford Still Museum - The Paintings

Clyfford Still (November 30, 1904 - June 23, 1980) was an American painter and one of the leading figures of Abstract Expressionism.  The Clyfford Still Museum is home to over 800 paintings and 1,500 works on paper.  Even though Still's initial bequest was that his collection not be broken up, with some legal finagling, four paintings were sold for a net of $80 million which enabled the museum to have a pretty healthy endowment.
Self portrait -1940
Born in North Dakota, he spent most of his first 35 years of his life in the prairies of the state of Washington and Alberta, Canada.  His work was influenced my his family's farms and the agricultural scene around him.
He depicted the depression painfully so with his chiseled figures and bright, intense colors.  This was the beginning of a technique and color palate that he used going forward.
This last year, the US Postal Service issued a wonderful sheet of stamps featuring the top artist of the Abstract Expressionists Movement:  Hans Hofman, Archile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, Joan Mitchell, barnet Newman, William de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still.    This movement during the 1940's and 1950's moved the United States to the center of the international art scene with its extreme styles based on bold color and motion.  "The function of the artist is to express reality as felt."  Robert Motherwell.
During the height of the movement, Still became increasingly critical of the art world.
Still's non-figurative paintings were less regular.  With his jagged patches of color, it is as if large sections of the painting had been torn off the canvas.
I observed people in the galleries and they were definitely drawn to his works and the gallery space itself.  Still used palatte knives and small trowels to craft his paint surfaces.  A technique that dominated his canvases.
Still mastered the use of bare canvas which was so expressive.
"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."  - Clyfford Still.
Working in seclusion in rural Maryland in the 1960's and 1970's, his paintings took on a lighter feel to them.  His "empty spaces" are spectacular.  His later canvases seem more vivid and with a bit more movement.  I love how he uses such strong colors, mainly black, yellow, white  and red with a variation of blues.  And how each painting has a hint of one color thrown in like the red in the above painting.

It is a wonderful museum, both the art and the building. 

Clyfford Still Museum
1250 Bannock Street
Denver, Colorado
(right next to the Denver Art Museum)
Closed on Mondays 


  1. Great photography and commentary, as usual, Robin!

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