About us
Artists Clyfford Still
Clyfford Still Photo

Clyfford Still

American Painter

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Born: November 30, 1904 - Grandin, North Dakota

Died: June 23, 1980 - Baltimore, Maryland

Clyfford Still Timeline


"I'm not interested in illustrating my time. A man's 'time' limits him, it does not truly liberate him. Our age - it is of science - of mechanism - of power and death. I see no virtue in adding to its mammoth arrogance the compliment of graphic homage."
Clyfford Still
"I never wanted color to be color. I never wanted texture to be texture, or images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit."
Clyfford Still
"My work is not influenced by anybody."
Clyfford Still
"As before, the pictures are to be without titles of any kind. I want no allusions to interfere with or assist the spectator. Before them I want him to be on his own, and if he finds in them an imagery unkind or unpleasant or evil, let him look to the state of his own soul."
Clyfford Still
"You can turn the lights out. The paintings will carry their own fire."
Clyfford Still
"It's intolerable to be stopped by a frame's edge."
Clyfford Still

"These are not paintings in the usual sense; they are life and death merging in fearful union. As for me, they kindle a fire; through them I breathe again, hold a golden cord, find my own revelation."


Although not as widely known as some of his New York School contemporaries, Clyfford Still was the first to break through to a new and radically abstract style devoid of obvious subject matter. His mature pictures employ great fields of color to evoke dramatic conflicts between man and nature taking place on a monumental scale. "These are not paintings in the usual sense," he once said, "they are life and death merging in fearful union.. they kindle a fire; through them I breathe again, hold a golden cord, find my own revelation." A believer in art's moral value in a disorienting modern world, Still would go on to influence a second generation of Color Field painters.

Key Ideas

Still's overriding theme is the existential struggle of the human spirit against the forces of nature, a notion that finds expression in the vertical forms that reach defiantly through the majority of his compositions, and a struggle he evoked in his phrase "the vertical necessity of life."
His expansive fields of color have sometimes been likened to caves or vast abysses momentarily illuminated by crackling flares of light.
Still's progression to purely abstract painting in the mid-1940s predated and influenced a similar move to non-representational art by his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries.
Still was a notoriously difficult character who often shunned the New York art world, resisted most critiques of his work and went to exceptional lengths to control how his paintings were sold, collected and exhibited.


Clyfford Still Photo


Born in Grandin, North Dakota, in 1904, Clyfford Still spent his formative years in Spokane, Washington and in Alberta, Canada, where his family maintained a wheat ranch in what was then the last outpost of the North American frontier. Though he later denied its significance, the vast, flat landscape and harsh lifestyle of the Canadian prairie would exert a lasting influence on his worldview and artistic practice.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Clyfford Still Biography Continues

Important Art by Clyfford Still

The below artworks are the most important by Clyfford Still - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Untitled(Indian Houses, Nespelem) (1936)
Artwork Images

Untitled(Indian Houses, Nespelem) (1936)

Artwork description & Analysis: Untitled (Indian Houses, Nespelem) is characteristic of the artist's work from the late 1920s to mid-1930s. It was executed in the town of Nespelem, on the Coleville Indian Reservation, where Still co-founded an artist's colony in 1937. In this work, Still synthesizes the influences of Gustave Courbet, Paul Cézanne, and American Regionalism, while also beginning to formulate his own individual artistic philosophy and style.

Oil on canvas - Collection Douglas Sandberg, San Francisco

Untitled (c.1935)
Artwork Images

Untitled (c.1935)

Artwork description & Analysis: An amalgam of body and landscape, Untitled is emblematic of the influence of Surrealism on Still's work of the mid-1930s. It also shows the development of a personal iconography and hints at the artist's lifelong interests in mythology, Native American shamanism, and totemic motifs. Art historian David Anfam has described the picture as a contradictory one, the grim-faced head suggesting sterility, whilst its apparent position, high above a landscape, evokes the soaring spirit.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection

1944-N No.2 (also known as 'Red Flash on Black Field') (1944)
Artwork Images

1944-N No.2 (also known as 'Red Flash on Black Field') (1944)

Artwork description & Analysis: 1944-N No.2 marks an essential turning point in Still's progression to completely non-representational painting. Along with its purely abstract subject matter, it also exhibits several other devices which he would employ throughout his career: a dynamic relationship between vertical and horizontal forms; a predominantly dark palette highlighted by areas of bright color; a highly textured surface resulting from the use of a palette knife; and the adoption of a non-referential naming system composed of numbers and dates. 1944-N No.2 is also notable in being one of the few replicas that Still produced throughout his career. Although Abstract Expressionists often produced pictures in series which were very similar in composition, their conception of the painterly act as an event, as an expression of emotion, discouraged them from producing replicas. Nevertheless, Still appears to have seen both this picture and its pair, 1944-N No.1, as identical in character and quality.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

More Clyfford Still Artwork and Analysis:

1948-C (1948) 1957-D (1957) Untitled (1974)

By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Clyfford Still
Interactive chart with Clyfford Still's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
William BlakeWilliam Blake

Personal Contacts

Jane Ellen HarrisonJane Ellen Harrison
Sir James FrazerSir James Frazer
Friedrich NietzscheFriedrich Nietzsche


American RegionalismAmerican Regionalism

Influences on Artist
Clyfford Still
Clyfford Still
Years Worked: 1933 - 1980
Influenced by Artist


Barnett NewmanBarnett Newman

Personal Contacts

Mark RothkoMark Rothko
Alfonso OssorioAlfonso Ossorio
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Washington Color SchoolWashington Color School

Useful Resources on Clyfford Still





The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Clyfford Still

By Katherine Kuh; Edited by John P. O'Neill

Reading Abstract Expressionism: Context and Critique Recomended resource

Edited by Ellen G. Landau
Big resource on Abstract Expressionism that includes analysis of Still's works.

The most influential artist you've probably never heard of Recomended resource

By Jim Spellman
June 9, 2012

Clyfford Still, Paul Cézanne, and Posterity

By Kent Minturn

Art Review; Why Clyfford Still's Art Stayed Hidden for 30 Years Recomended resource

December 2011

Art Review; Clyfford Still's Sublime Art Recomended resource

By Peter Plagens
December 13, 2011

More Interesting Articles about Clyfford Still
The Man in a Long Black Coat Recomended resource

Short video by the Smithsonian

Clyfford Still: A Life in Paintings Recomended resource

By ClyffordStillMuseum

Contemporary: Still Recomended resource

By SothebysTV

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by David Kupperberg

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by David Kupperberg
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
[Accessed ]

Did we succeed in explaining the art to you?
If Yes, please tell others about us: