Sunday, September 26, 2010

portrait of the artist: 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 together into a living spirit." (Clyfford Still)

Because I like to find little ways to make everyday life more beautiful and inspiring, when it came time to purchase a new set of stamps for mailing of bills and rent checks and other ugly-on-the-inside envelopes, I went with the "Abstract Expressionist" variety. The above painting was featured on the stamp I used to snail mail the electric bill this week, and it did the trick! Not only will it deliver my payment to its destination, but it just might brighten the day of a disgruntled Green Mountain Power employee (it brightened mine!). Anyway, that's all sort of beside the point, which is that Clyfford Still is an incredibly inspiring artist and I wanted to share a little bit of his brilliance with all of you on this lazy Sunday afternoon!



I know that it isn't for everyone, but I am definitely partial to abstract art. I can appreciate an inventive interpretation of landscape, or the skill required to paint a realistic reproduction of a particular space, or face, or place, but I'm not affected by skill. And the helter-skelter plastic quality of something like surrealism (Dali, for example) just seems so artificial and forced to me. I don't want a painting to appear to be absolutely dripping with significance, I want it just... dripping. I want to get the sense that the artist was full of sensation when he (or she) painted a certain piece, like he was overflowing with feeling--rage, lust, sadness, passion, anything! I've always been an emotional person, and I generally judge a painting based on whether or not it stirs me in some way--it's a very subjective experience.





I had originally arranged the various paintings in this post according to vague aesthetic matchy-matchy color-coordination, but the more I looked at the paintings the more I realized they had to go in chronological order (that's what happens when you have a fly-off-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to blogging--and life). I like the earlier paintings (from the forties and early fifties) best, and although I still like his late-fifties-early-sixties work, it is undeniably different. The lines are sharper, more jagged, more boxy--even the colors are harder and appear to have less depth. Of course, because I'm nosy and like to know other people's business, I wonder if this stylistic shift was inspired by a change in feeling or an attempt by Still to plagiarize his own style because it had become popular (and therefore stunting and stilting it). Perhaps we'll never know, but I kind of doubt it he was forcing anything. According to the scant research I did about him on the interweb, he was a rather fiesty and entirely unpretentious fellow who scorned those who wished to assign meaning to his work. He said, "each painting is an episode in a personal history, an entry in a journal." This indicates that his work was merely a beautiful reflection of his internal landscape, the mark of a truly great artist (in my opinion). Maybe the sharper, angrier lines in his later work surfaced from a frustration with those flailing critics who desperately hoped to tuck him safely into a box that so that they could analyze and understand him:





Maybe in trying to understand the transformation of his style, I'm just as bad as the rest of them :) What are your thoughts on Mr. Still? Do you like his work? Are you indifferent? How do you determine what you consider "good art?" Is there such a thing? Is passion enough?

"It's intolerable to be stopped by a frame's edge." (Clyfford Still)

1 comment:

  1. Oh thanks! I didn't know his work at all, but I love it! Good art for me is something that communicates- but that can be either in an intellectual or visual sense. I also love Richard Diebenkorn's 'abstract' suburban landscapes, and I had such a visceral reaction to first seeing them in person. I think I might actual prefer the flatness of these in reproduction- gotta see if there are any books out there!
    Found your site on weardrobe- nice stuff!