Still  |  Life

Clyfford Still

Feb 28, 2014
Clyfford Still

 Top 10 Pop Culture Events of 1959


1)On March 9, 1959, the Barbie doll, invented by Ruth Handler (co-founder of Mattel), made its debut


2)A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry opened, the first play produced on Broadway
that was written by a black woman


3)Jack Kerouac published Mexico City Blues,
Dr. Sax, and Maggie Cassidy, and narrated
the Beat film Pull My Daisy


4)Columbia Records released Miles Davis’s groundbreaking album,Kind of Blue!


5) Gigi won nine Oscars including Best Motion Picture, Best Director (David Niven), and Best Musical Score (AndréPrevin), as well as three Golden Globes


6)Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg completed his epic poem “Kaddish”


7)The Solomon P. Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, opened in New York City


8)Susan Hayward won Best Actress in a Leading Role at the 31st Academy Awards for her role as Barbara Graham in I Want to Live! (Robert Wise, 1958)


9)On February 3, 1959, an airplane crash killed Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), Ritchie Valens and their pilot, now remembered as “The Day The Music Died”


10)Disney released Sleeping Beauty, The Shaggy Dog, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and Third Man on the Mountain


Feb 14, 2014
Clyfford Still

by Emily Kosakowski, Museum registrar

Although we do not know what time of year Clyfford Still created this self-portrait, we can see that he dedicated it to his first wife, Lillian, in 1929 at the beginning of their relationship. This romantic gesture is a rare find in our collection of over 2,300 works on paper. Happy Valentine’s Day!






Images: (left) Clyfford Still, PD-12, 1929, graphite on paper
(right) detail of PD-12. © City and County of Denver.

Feb 11, 2014
Clyfford Still

The Clyfford Still Museum joins the Arvada Center’s winter exhibition series COLLECT: The Art of Colorado Corporations, Institutions and Individuals.

"The Clyfford Still Museum is an example of a Colorado institution that has played an important role in the region's art scene. We're excited to feature the Museum's story in the exhibition," says Collin Parson, exhibition manager and curator for the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. 



Come explore the motivations behind select Colorado art collectors and the genesis that culminated in the creation of the Clyfford Still Museum.

The exhibition is on view until March 30, 2014. Learn more

Sep 13, 2013
Clyfford Still

By Tim Svenonius, Media Producer, SFMOMA

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is one of very few museums that owns works by Clyfford Still. One gallery in the museum is permanently dedicated to showing a selection of these works. SFMOMA Media Producer Tim Svenonius wrote this reflection on one painting from the collection, PH-58, 1951, just before the museum closed its doors for an ambitious expansion. SFMOMA will reopen in early 2016.

Many times I've paused in front of this painting, allowing my thoughts to wander across the rough landscapes of its surface. Austere and silent, it drinks the light from the room like a dark sponge. Though possessing neither the scale nor the dynamism of the other canvases that fill the room, it is this one--the one I'll call the black painting--that always asserts itself most powerfully to me.

If you are drawn to it, as I have been, it reveals itself as you move nearer. Only then does its volcanic-rock texture come into focus. Or, it may seem not so much mineral as mammalian: woolly like the hide of a huge dark animal. It catches the ambient light gently but resolutely, becoming a field of subtle shadows. Near the top, a break appears in the black expanse--a vivid red cut in the dense surface. Below, a patch of deep crimson covers a bottom corner. Yet in essence it is monochromatic, and motionless. This work will engage those who choose to confront it but will remain opaque to any who saunter past with only a glance.

Still once wrote of his work, "These are not paintings in the traditional sense; they are life and death merging in fearful union." 

His remark is at once revealing and cryptic. A fearful union of life and death has mystical overtones, and to assert that his artworks are that union, speaks to a religious-like reverence he held for his paintings and his process. With his statement in mind, I began to look at each of his paintings as part of a mythical cosmogony, each one a collision of powerful opposites.

In science as well as myth, the creative and destructive forces that shape our world are considered to be inseparable. In both ways of telling the story of our universe, it is through catastrophic or violent change that the world around us is renewed.

In the beginning, we are told, in religion as well as science, the world was formless and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. On this point nearly all accounts of the beginning seem to agree: a shared notion of nothingness and darkness. As to what happens next, of course, there is considerable disagreement.

The beginning as told in Genesis seems to occur with quickness and ease: Let there be light, and there was light. But many other creation stories are filled with clashes and conflicts, revolutions and patricide. In most traditions gods are overthrown to make way for new generations; sometimes the deposed gods are dismembered for the good of future generations. In the Babylonian myth, humankind is made from the flesh and bones of a slain war god; in the Norse creation myth, when the giant Ymir is slain, his body becomes the land and his blood becomes the sea.

Not quite a century ago, astronomers decided that all the matter in the universe had once been contained in a single point in space--one impossibly dense speck of matter. This point was so volatile that the only thing it could possibly do was to explode into a vast confusion of energy. Then, over thousands of years, this swirling, churning chaos formed into galaxies and stars, and thus our universe was born.

The "big bang," with its abrupt beginning and slow unfolding, contains echoes of creation mythology: a sense that the formation of the world is still happening all around us. For the ancients, all of civilization was part of a divinely-sanctioned battle against chaos. In the Islamic faith it is understood that every newborn child or budding flower is a part of the ongoing creation of the universe.

In many of Still's canvases I imagine I'm seeing a piece of something much larger--as though the subject is of staggering scale, extending indefinitely in all directions, of which we only see an detail—and even that detail towers over us. The black painting, meanwhile, is not just part of a whole. It is the whole: it seems somehow all encompassing, limitless in its density, as though within its boundaries it could contain enough matter to create a universe.

Standing amid the roomful of Still’s metamorphic images, I could see turbulent, cataclysmic events unfolding, each one yielding something new and unknown--geological, cosmological, spiritual. But as I turn back to the black painting, I see the time before time, before words, before all that we know: the profound, pregnant emptiness.

Jun 19, 2013
Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still Pilgrimage: Our Visit to Westminster and New Windsor, Maryland

by Bailey Harberg, Collections Manager and Emily Kosakowski, Registrar

Last month, we were able to travel to the area in which Clyfford Still spent the last quarter of his life while we were in Maryland for the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting.

Driving on the rural highways between Baltimore and Westminster, we couldn’t help but feel like we were on our own little Clyfford Still pilgrimage. Sandra Still even put a folder together for us mapping out her father’s favorite spots along the route and specific sites we should look out for.

The first stop on our trek was Westminster, Maryland, where Still moved after leaving New York in 1961. After driving around town rather aimlessly in a hunger-induced stupor, we found ourselves face to face with Clyfford Still’s favorite diner, Baugher’s. Recognizing that this was nothing if not miraculous, we immediately pulled in. Baugher’s is a family run enterprise that was running full tilt when Still arrived the summer of 1961. Sandra Still says that her father enjoyed going to Baugher’s for a burger sub—one of their specialties—and often ate there for breakfast or lunch. We bought some fruit from the little farmer’s market on site and indulged in a homemade ice cream shake. Definitely delicious!

Feeling revived, we drove the short distance west to New Windsor, MD to find Still’s home located at 312 Church St. New Windsor is a quaint town with charming storefronts and beautiful, grand homes. The Stills’ former home is no exception. Although it is currently home to a law office and is in a bit of disrepair, one can easily imagine Clyfford and Patricia sitting on the wonderful, wrap-around porch enjoying an evening drink and meal. 


We then followed Sandra’s map to Pipe Creek Cemetery to pay our respects at Clyfford Still’s mausoleum outside of town. The mausoleum is situated down a narrow strip of land that looks out over the distant mountains. It is a quiet place with extraordinary views; we commented that neither of us could have imagined Still’s final resting place to be any more peaceful.


Finally, we drove back towards Westminster in search of the now empty fields outside of town where Clyfford Still’s farmhouse and barn studio once stood. Even though there isn’t anything left of the original structures, we were able to get a sense of the placid, somewhat reclusive life that Clyfford and Patricia Still chose after they retreated from the art scene of New York.  Sandra Still provided us with several Google maps outlining Still's property so we could really see where the home and studio once stood.

Standing on Still’s New Windsor front porch, swinging open the door to Baugher’s that Still must have swept through countless times, and driving along the dirt roads he sped his jaguar down on the way to his Westminster farm house and studio humanized the artist to us in a way that I don’t think either of us could have expected. After visiting these bucolic towns and interacting with the people there, it is completely plausible to imagine Still going about his daily life with no one being remotely aware of the historic figure walking in their midst. He could not have chosen a more authentic area to spend the last decades of his life.

Feb 10, 2013
Clyfford Still

by Isaac Linder, Visitor Services Representative

“CLYFORD STILL KNEW ABOUT PAINTING.”[sic] A note on youth and influence." (Keith Haring)

One of the enduring gifts that an institution like the Clyfford Still Museum provides involves the ongoing research that takes place within its archives. Today, with more and more Museums and arts-related archives making their holdings available digitally, the possibility of discovering connections between disparate artists and insights into their relationships also increases exponentially. I had the pleasure of stumbling into one such moment recently, when I found myself perusing the journals of the pop artist Keith Haring. In conjunction with a recent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, The Keith Haring Foundation began the laudable project of digitizing a page-a-day from the artist’s journals to the social media platform, Tumblr (the uploading continues to this day, with new entries uploaded here every 24 hours). Born in 1958 Keith Haring would have been a tender 21 years old in the winter of 1979 when, as I was delighted to discover, he paid a visit to Clyfford Still’s solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. What remains of Haring’s visit is documented in a meager eight-page spread, but from what we find written there one gets the sense that the reflection Haring was prompted to may have been considerably more profound.

Specifically, I was struck by one small passage where we find Haring youthfully mulling over the following question:

“What is the value of the constant focusing of CLYFORD STILL for an entire lifetime on one single medium and a limited vocabulary?”

For those who are familiar with Keith Haring’s legacy, the question opens onto a small revelation. We imagine the budding painter, struggling with an important question that every artist will at one point or another have to face, and know that this was a question Haring would be quick to resolve for himself. Having been in New York City barely a year at this time, Haring stood on the precipice into his own lifelong career, which he would spend cultivating one of the most limited, iconic vocabularies in the history of art. While the style that Haring went on to develop will strike many as the farthest thing possible from Still’s own singular vision, the insight that Haring’s influence would have been motivated, at least in part, by an encounter with the elderly master is one of the reasons I’m continually drawn back into the archives. As we ready our new exhibition here at the Clyfford Still Museum I can’t help but wonder – who, in forty or fifty years time, will we discover had written about a pilgrimage to Denver and what kind of questions will they ask?

The artist and activist Keith Haring alongside his singular, graffiti-inspired style. (Source: Brooklyn Museum)

Nov 30, 2012
Clyfford Still

Clyfford Elmer Still was born on November 30, 1904 in Grandin, North Dakota. Today, he would have been 108 years old. We'll be celebrating Clyfford's birthday at the Museum today - the first 200 visitors can enjoy a complimentary birthday cupcake.

Happy Birthday, Clyfford.

Jun 15, 2012
Clyfford Still

by Bailey Harberg, collections management associate

As some of you may know, Clyfford Still had somewhat of a strained relationship with his dear old dad, Elmer. The tough life Elmer created for his family on the wheat ranch in Bow Island, Alberta provided Still with a resolve unlike many of his future artist colleagues. Still said of his childhood on the farm that his arms were often “bloody to the elbows shucking wheat.” Rumor has it that his father once even tied a rope around Clyfford’s ankles and lowered him headfirst into a newly built well to assess its status. However, Elmer’s unsympathetic attitude ultimately paved the way for Clyfford to brazenly navigate a similarly harsh art world.

So far, we have come across four pretty outstanding portraits Clyfford created of his father: two drawings and two paintings that range in dates from 1924 to 1941. The sketch below, created when Clyfford was 26 years old, shows his father sitting for a portrait and hand study. The man in this portrait brings to mind the supportive father who bought Clyfford his first set of oil paints 10 years earlier. The painting created eleven years later presents Elmer dramatically floating in the midst of an abstract ground that prefigures many of his future Abstract Expressionist works and hints at the man whose aloof attitude inevitably drove Clyfford to leave home at a young age.

Elmer Still’s bold Western spirit, determination, and reserved character clearly rubbed off on young Clyfford. Though he later denied the impact of his rural upbringing, the demanding lifestyle led by Clyfford’s parents contributed to the making of a truly remarkable artist, American icon, and father in his own right. Happy Father’s Day to all those hard-nosed dads out there—we love you all!

Top left: Clyfford with his dad, Elmer. c. 1910

Bottom left to right: Clyfford Still, Sketch of Artist’s Father (PD-69), 1930. Graphite on paper, 9 x 12 in. © Clyfford Still Estate

Clyfford Still, Portrait of Artist’s Father (PH-269), 1941. Oil on canvas, 20.2 x 16 in. © Clyfford Still Estate

May 11, 2012
Clyfford Still

by Bailey Harberg, Collections Management Associate

Meet Mrs. Sarah Amelia Johnson Still (left), whose son, Clyfford, grew to become one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century. We came across this small oil on canvas while trying to get a better grasp on some of the smaller oil paintings that have been grouped with Still’s works-on-paper.

Clyfford Still recalled his mother encouraging his visual appetite by bringing him various ladies’ magazines from which he could practice drawing figures. I find Still’s rare portraits to be unsettling, and this one is no exception. Her gaze jumps out of the canvas and seems to shake the viewer into submission. One can’t help but wonder if Clyfford grew up knowing this intense glare all too well, and if it had anything to do with his taking his profession so seriously as an adult.

Interestingly, this portrait was painted in the summer of 1946, after Still left New York City for a summer jaunt in Westlock, Alberta, Canada before moving down to San Francisco in the Fall. Still was right in the midst of his newfound Abstract Expressionist stardom at this point, and his figurative works had largely gone by the wayside. We also know that Still single-handedly built a house in Westlock during this summer. Could it be that through this nostalgic portrait and the construction of his little white house in Canada, Still was trying to tap into his childhood roots and rural upbringing as a way to forget the New York City, "big city" drama and refresh his individual spirit?

Other famed abstract artists also paid homage to their mothers in a traditional style. Pablo Picasso famously claimed that his mother said to him, “If you become a soldier you'll be a general; if you become a monk you'll end up as the Pope.” Picasso later stated in response, “Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.” Like Still’s portrait, Picasso’s portrait of his mother, Maria Ruiz Picasso, painted when Picasso was just fifteen years old, reveals a side of the artist different than that which we have become most familiar with.

Though Clyfford Still and Pablo Picasso both accomplished ground-breaking abstraction in each of their respective eras and countries, they both depicted their mothers in a sincere, conventional manner. These intimate images provide the means through which the viewer can form a human connection with these two often detached, inaccessible artists. Hopefully these images can similarly inspire you to creatively honor the profound influence your own mother has had on your life.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mother's out there, for all in which you inspire.

Images: Clyfford Still, Portrait of the Artist's Mother (PH-420), 1946. Oil on Canvas. (Top)
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of the Artist's Mother, 1896. (Bottom)

Apr 25, 2012
Clyfford Still

Guest post by Kent Minturn

In the essay, “Clyfford Still, Paul Cezanne, and Posterity” author Kent Minturn examines Still’s 1935 master’s thesis which focuses on several works by Cezanne. As Minturn points out, Still “deplored” words, especially those of a critic’s. Because this is the case, Mintern is interested to see how Still approaches the project of discussing another artist’s work. Minturn explores Cezanne’s influences on Still throughout the essay and he also looks into Still’s statement, “The ultimate realization of Cézanne’s contribution and ideal remains with the artists of the future.” Is Still Cezanne’s ultimate realizer?

Read the essay here:

images: Clyfford Still (left); Paul Cezanne (right)