Clyfford Still (1904-1980)

Clyfford Still’s art is electrifying.  It’s like a bolt of lightning both visually and in its impact on the viewer.   There is a constant sense of revelation running through the work, an ongoing depiction of those powerful intricacies of nature that we inherently understand but can’t find words for. 

Clyfford Still 1957-D No 1
1957-D No 1: Image from Easyart

“I look at a Still painting and I feel better, more alive, more connected to the world. I experience a tingling, a physical sensation, even a sense of happiness. There is space and yet there is also a feeling of possibility, a sense of energy that allows me to go out into the world and see it with new eyes.”– Gallery visitor, London

Still’s work uses a silent language but it is a powerful and universal one and it speaks volumes about our existence and our connection with something beyond ourselves.

A Pioneer of Abstract Expressionism

Clyfford Still was born in North Dakota in 1904 and spent his childhood years in Spokane, Washington and in Bow Island, Southern Alberta, Canada.  He was interested in art and music from an early age, studied at Spokane University and later worked as a teacher in Washington State and in California.

Clyfford Still 1964
1964 : Image from Easyart

Still is regarded by many as the true pioneer of Abstract Expressionism even though he spent most of his life on the periphery of the New York art scene, frequently criticising it and rejecting offers to exhibit and sell his work. 

Still felt that each of his paintings was an integral part of a whole body of work and they needed to be exhibited together to be fully appreciated and understood.  Although he did exhibit with the Art of the Century and Betty Parsons galleries in the 1950s he eventually severed ties with both, choosing instead to maintain full control of his work himself.  He said:

 “Each painting is an episode in a personal history, an entry in a journal” and “My work in its entirety is like a symphony in which each painting has its part”.

Still worked on large canvases and used thick brushwork to create jagged edges on broad expanses of color.  He wrote in his diary in 1956:

“Like Belmonte (famous Spanish bullfighter) weaving the patterns of his being by twisting the powerful bulls around him, I seem to achieve a comparable ecstasy in bringing forth the flaming life through these large responsive areas of canvas.”

A Suitable Home

The Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo eventually gained Still’s trust and was permitted to mount an exhibition of his work in 1959.  It was so successful that Still donated thirty-one of his paintings to the Gallery on condition that they would be allocated a separate room, be exhibited together and never loaned to other institutions. In 1975, he gave twenty-eight paintings to the San Francisco Museum of Art with the same conditions attached.

In 1961, Still moved to Maryland where he spent the remainder of his life.  Following his death in 1980, a vast body of his work not yet in the public domain was put into storage to await the completion of a gallery built to his specifications in which the entire collection would be on permanent display.

That gallery has now opened in Denver, Colorado.