Clyfford Still (1904-1980) is one of my favorite abstract artists. His massive scale, jagged forms, and raw use of color are so expressive to me. An extended stay in Denver allowed me to visit the eponymous museum. I was eager to see his paintings in person, since I’ve seen such a correlation to Still’s paintings and minimalist fashion. Both Abstract Expressionism and Minimalist Fashion simplifies the creative act to the most fundamental question – how does each of us relate to the energy and emotion of color and form?
(New to my site? You would like my previous post, Minimalist Fashion: Issey Miyake & Clyfford Still).
Still was an early figure in the Abstract Expressionists movement directly following WWII. He painted in New York City during much of the 1950s, but soon grew cynical of the art world there. He preferred to instead remove himself from the commercialism and stopped working with galleries. In 1961, he left New York for Maryland where he painted until his death in 1980. Still enjoyed his work from the periphery, and his estate included a 94% inventory of his paintings and drawings. This unusually robust collection was rooted in Still’s belief that every artist is best understood by viewing the entire body of their work on its own, not accompanied by the paintings and drawings of other artists.
This idea echoed through my mind as I walked through the galleries. As I passed from room to room, I felt that Still was a very sensitive person. Some rooms were a totally emotional experience for me. The amorphous shapes and rich color combinations were evocative of experiences outside of words and letters, like . . .
solemnity . . .
curiosity . . .
While these experiences have names, the words are merely empty shells until you have felt the experience yourself. Other rooms, instead, appealed to my memory. The canvases somehow told a story I knew, like:
a flock of birds taking flight at dusk . . .
water endlessly flowing through a waterfall . . .
the sun setting over a reed-covered lake . . .
or flames crackling and consuming the wood of a bonfire.
Still abandoned titling his work later in his career. He believed that the viewer should bring their own meaning and interpretation to his work. All of the paintings and drawings are tracked by an alphanumeric system based on the inventory photos of the collection.
Without names, the viewer can spontaneously see what they’d like to see, whenever they are ready to see it. What do you see?