Still  |  Life

clyfford still

Dec 10, 2013
Programs

Lynn Wolfe viewing the Still in Colorado archival exhibition. Professor Wolfe brought Clyfford Still to Colorado in 1960 as part of the Visiting Artist Program at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Wolfe is pictured at right next to Still.

Photo: Bart Habermiller 

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.

Apr 02, 2013

 

By Bailey Harberg, Collections Manager

Georgia O’Keeffe seems to be everywhere since the February opening of the Denver Art Museum’s exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land. The exhibition highlights O’Keeffe’s appreciation for New Mexican landscape and cultures. Walking through the exhibition, I couldn’t help but make connections between O’Keefe and Clyfford Still.

Still and O’Keeffe’s artworks have a distinctly American aesthetic largely inspired by the West and the native cultures in the region, and each of the artists have played a huge role in shaping the way in which we view the landscape of twentieth-century American art today. Personally, I’ve found that the western artistic language expressed by both Still and O’Keeffe’s work has become a massive force when it comes to defining my own visual appetite, which may or may not have something to do with my growing up in Albuquerque, NM (proud graduate of Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary School…go Rams!).  This is probably one of the reasons I feel so innately drawn to Still’s work.

Both Still and O’Keeffe are also each the subject of art museums located in the West founded on the unique principle of disseminating a single artist’s life and vision.  It’s exciting to think about O’Keeffe and Still as American contemporaries (O’Keeffe died just 5 years after Still) who were responding to similar socio-political climates artistically through themes based in the spiritual and abstract, but it is also worth exploring how these two artists relate to larger twentieth-century ideas that led to the notion of the “single-artist museum” in the first place. 

In early April, the Clyfford Still Museum collections team will be traveling to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and Ghost Ranch property to discuss parallels between the two single-artist museums with their staff.  We hope to learn how the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum collection and archives fit together, how their staff makes connections between the two areas, and ways in which they have maximized intellectual access for researchers via their Research Center in order to advance twentieth-century American art historical/cultural scholarship. 

Hopefully, we will hash out what it takes to effectively care for and promote the collections of such iconic artists and experience more of the American Western landscape that is so inherently tied to O’Keeffe and Still’s work.

 

Clyfford Still, PP-711, 1936. Pastel on paper, 8 ⅝ x 12 in. © Clyfford Still Estate

 

Clyfford Still, PP-493, 1936. Pastel on paper, 8 ½ x 11in. © Clyfford Still Estate

Jan 15, 2013
Collection

The National Western Stock Show kicked off last week here in Denver. This annual event is in its 107th year, and is a Denver institution featuring the premier Stock Show, Rodeo, Horse Show, and tradeshow. In celebration of the western spirit that is the 'Stock Show' we will share a series of artworks by Still that evoke the same spirit of the west.

"When I stood in the gentle swell of the prairies in my youth and felt the sting or caress of the wind and held my head to the skies and breathed the hope of the blue and white and gold of the freedom above the horizon I was less alone than I have ever been."

- Clyfford Still, 1956

image: Clyfford Still, PW-3, 1930. Watercolor on paper, 10 1/8 x 11 7/8 in. © Clyfford Still Estate. Currently on view.

Aug 13, 2012
Collection

By Bailey Harberg - Collections Manager

It’s a familiar feeling for many of us.

You walk into an art museum excited about the one-of-a-kind, over-the-top inspiring moments you are about to experience.

Then it happens.

You come face-to-face with an all-white painting.

Your first thought is, “What am I supposed to do with this?”

So what are we supposed do with all these white paintings?

The idea of a white painting, as we know it can be traced to Russian Suprematist Kazimir Malevich when he painted White on White in 1918. His theory was that painting should create within its viewers a “pure feeling,” which could be achieved through stripping art down to its essence.

Inspired by Malevich, Constructivist artist and photographer Alexandr Rodchenko decided that he should paint some of his own monochrome paintings, but with a very different goal in mind. In 1921, Rodchenko created and exhibited three monochrome paintings—one red, one yellow, and one blue—as a proclamation of painting’s death and the end of bourgeois art tradition.

However, unfortunately for Mr. Rodchenko, painting wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, his take on Malevich’s white monochrome paintings actually sparked quite the scandal several decades later in the U.S. when Robert Rauschenberg decided to tackle the idea of monochrome painting from what is thought to be the first post-modern American take on white paintings.

In a blatant statement against the popular Abstract Expressionist movement dominating the NYC art scene at the time, Rauschenberg exhibited his 1951 White Paintings at Stable Gallery in 1953. Critics announced that Rauschenberg’s white paintings were a “gratuitously destructive act”; a plain white canvas was the farthest you could get from the Abstract Expressionist notion of the unique individual. Soon after that, Rauschenberg took it a step farther with his famous Erased de Kooning Drawing, which literally obliterated Abstract Expressionist ideals (come check out the CSM interactive timeline for a great video interview with Rauschenberg about this one).

After Rauschenberg, the white painting trend continued with artists such as Ad Reinhart, Agnes Martin, and Robert Ryman, who still creates white paintings today. Even though artists use the “white painting” for different objectives, the play of light and shadow, using the canvas to inspire a unique meditational experience absent of all outside references, and the inevitable comparison with notions of the “white-cube” gallery all play into the layers of meaning hidden under all that white paint. In my opinion, the best part about white paintings is that we can do whatever we want with them.

Here’s the kicker.

We found a white Clyfford Still painting the other day.

Painted in 1949.

Two years before Rauschenberg’s white paintings.

WHAT?!

Images (Top of page; clockwise from top left):
Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition: 1. White on White, 1918. Oil on canvas, 31 ¼ x 31 ¼ in. Museum of Modern Art, New York. 2. Robert Rauschenberg with White Painting (four panels), 1951, house paint on canvas, 72 x 72 in. Collection of the artist’s estate. 3. Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting (seven panels), 1951. Oil on canvas, 72 x 125 in. Collection of the artist’s estate. 4. Robert Ryman, Untitled, 1958. Enamel on linen, 10 ⅛ x 10 ⅛ in. Collection SFMOMA.

(Bottom): Clyfford Still, PH-1180, 1949. Oil on canvas, 70 3/4 X 62 1/2 in. © Clyfford Still Estate.
 

Jun 28, 2012
Conservation

By James Squires, conservator of paintings

Looking at the reverse of our ‘fragment,’ (PH-191), Still was clear on his intent. He writes on the reverse that the picture was…’cut from a large canvas approximately 10 x 13 ft. Painted in 48 Cooper Sq. New York, 1950 after version #1-1950.’ Version #1 was clearly the Met’s PH-803. The original dimensions of our canvas, 10 x 13 ft (120” x 156”) makes it slightly taller and shorter than the Met’s version (112” x 169”). Assessing the painted surface prior to stretching reveals that the paint extends to the edges of the canvas on the left, right, and bottom while a more standard raw canvas tacking margin is present along the top. The presence of the tacking margin indicates it is the top edge of the original picture. Based on the dimensional information given, Still cropped approximately 30-35” off of the bottom of the picture. Comparing the central forms of both our fragment and the PH-803, it appears Still cut approximately 20” from the left side and 90” from the right.

Why Still cropped the picture is unknown. Perhaps he found the more square format of the copy (PH-191) to be an inadequate representation of the original, or simply that the essence of both pictures was the jagged black/gray/orange line rising from the lower left to the upper right. Cropping the canvas was his way of both accentuating and saving that central and essential component.

The treatment of this picture will be discussed in a future blog post.
 

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!

Images:
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 23, 2012
Collection

By Dean Sobel, Director

In choosing works for the new exhibition, More Discoveries: Inaugural Exhibition, Part II, I came across a slide, most likely taken as part of an inventory in the 1960s, of a tall painting with a particularly expressive, vertical form executed in orange and black. This painting — PH-191, 1951 (seen below, on the left)—had always impressed me, as it seemed to be a strong, singular embodiment of the "classic” vertical image that Still had perfected in the early 1950s. I recognized that the painting's tall, almost skinny format was also unique (it measures 82 x 45 inches), given that many of his works at this time were growing broader in their dimensions.

Upon unrolling this painting, we found an inscription on the back, which noted that this painting was, in fact, a fragment cut from a larger work. It was signed and given a PH (inventory) number, proving it was intended by the artist to be a discrete work of art.

On a recent trip to New York I visited the room of Stills at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was struck by the similarities between PH-191 and the left portion of one of the Met's paintings, PH-803, which dates from 1950 (seen below, on the right). Perhaps the CSM painting was initially part of a "replica" of PH-803 -- the many examples in which Still made additional versions of major works. Or, perhaps, he ultimately might have felt that all he wanted to say was already encapsulated within the power of this single image, set against a particularly expressive, oxblood red background. At present, no documentation exists for the larger work from which PH-191 was borne. Seeing it in the galleries, I'm certainly glad he didn't throw this "fragment" out. See it for yourself in the exhibition.

This question will continue to be explored through conservation. I have asked our paintings conservator, James Squires, to examine this question and we look forward to sharing our discoveries with you in another post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images from left to right:
- Clyfford Still, 1951 (PH-191). 82.5 X 42 in. © Clyfford Still Museum
- Clyfford Still, 1950 (PH-803). 112 X 169 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Clyfford Still, 1986 (1986.441.6) Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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: www.art-theory.com

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