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The Art Story Homepage Artists Clyfford Still
Clyfford Still Photo

Clyfford Still

American Painter

Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting, The Sublime in Art

Born: November 30, 1904 - Grandin, North Dakota

Died: June 23, 1980 - Baltimore, Maryland

Clyfford Still Timeline

"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."

Summary of Clyfford Still

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.

Important Art by Clyfford Still Important Art and Analysis

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 Google 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 Google 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 Google 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-No. 1 (1957) Untitled (1974)

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
Show influences

Artists

Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
William BlakeWilliam Blake

Personal Contacts

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

Movements

CubismCubism
SurrealismSurrealism
American RegionalismAmerican Regionalism
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Clyfford Still
Clyfford Still
Years Worked: 1933 - 1980
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Barnett NewmanBarnett Newman

Personal Contacts

Mark RothkoMark Rothko
Alfonso OssorioAlfonso Ossorio
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Bay Area Figurative MovementBay Area Figurative Movement
Washington Color SchoolWashington Color School

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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:
First published on 21 Jan 2012. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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