Clyfford Still

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Clyfford Still (November 30, 1904June 23, 1980) was an American painter, and one of the leading figures of Abstract Expressionism. He was considered one of the foremost Color Field painters, together with Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman. Still's non-figurative paintings are largely concerned with juxtaposing different colors and surfaces in a variety of not regular forms.

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  • We are now committed to an unqualified art, not illustrating outworn myths or contemporary alibis. One must accept total responsibility for what he executes. And the measure of his greatness will be in the depth of his insight and his courage in realizing his own vision.
    • letter to Dorothy Miller February 5, 1952; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrams Publishers New York 1990, p. 193
  • The observer usually will see what his fears and hopes and learning teach him to see. But if he can escape these demands that hold up a mirror to himself, then perhaps some of the implications of the work may be felt. But whatever is seen of felt it should be remembered that for me these paintings had to be something else. It is the price one has to pay for clarity when one’s means are honoured only as an instrument of seduction or assault.
    • letter to Dorothy Miller February 5, 1952; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrams Publishers New York 1990, p. 193
  • ..not paintings in the usual sense. They are life and death merging in fearful union (1950, on his own work, fh)
    • Abstract Expressionism, Davind Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd London, 1990, p. 138
  • The best works are often those with the fewest and simplest elements.. ..until you look at them a little more, and things start to happen.
    • Abstract Expressionism, Davind Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd London, 1990, p. 137
  • Through them (his paintings) I breathe again. (lost statement for his 1950 show)
    • Abstract Expressionism, Davind Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd London, 1990, p. 145
  • I held it imperative to evolve an instrument of thought which would aid in cutting through all cultural opiates, past and present, so that a direct, immediate, and truly vision could be achieved, and a idea be revealed with clarity. To acquire such an instrument, however.. ..demanded full resolution of the past, and present through it. No shouting about individualism, no capering before an expanse of canvas, no manipulation of academic conceits or technical fetishes can truly liberate..
    • letter to Gordon Smith, January 1, 1959, as quoted in Abstract Expressionism Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrams Publishers New York 1990, p. 194
  • The work itself, whether thought of as image of idea, as revelation, or as a manifest of meaning, could not have existed without a profound concern to achieve a purpose beyond vanity, ambition or remembrance, for a man’s term of life. Yet, while one looks at his works, a warning should be given, lest one forget, among the multitude of issues, the relation I bear to those with 'eyes'. Although the reference is in a different context and for another purpose, a metaphor is pertinent as William Blake set it down: HE Vision of Christ that dou dost see – Is my Vision’s Greatest Enemy: - Thine is the friend of All Mankind, - Mine speaks in parables to the Blind: 'Therefore, let no man under-value the implications of this work or its power for life; - or for death, if it is misused'.
    • letter to Gordon Smith, January 1, 1959, as quoted in Abstract Expressionism Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrams Publishers New York 1990, p. 196
  • I am not an action painter. Each painting is an act. The result of action and the fulfilment of action.. ..No painting stops with itself, is complete of itself. It is a continuation of previous paintings and is renewed in successive ones..
    • Gallery Notes, Allbright-Knox Art Gallery, Vol. 24 summer 1961 pp. 9-14; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrams Publishers New York 1990, p. 197
  • I do not have a comic or tragic period in any real sense. I have always painted dark pictures; always some light pictures. I will probably go on doing so.. ..Orchestral. My work in its entirety is like a symphony in which each painting has its part.
    • Gallery Notes, Allbright-Knox Art Gallery, Vol. 24 summer 1961 pp. 9-14; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrams Publishers New York 1990, p. 197
  • I felt it necessary to evolve entirely new concepts (of form and space and paintings) and postulate them in an instrument that could continue to shake itself free from dialectical perversions. The dominant ones, cubism and expressionism, only reflected the attitudes of power or spiritual debasement of the individual.
    • Clyfford Still, interview with Ti Grace Sharpless, 1963; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrams Publishers New York 1990, p. 200
  • I am 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 point in adding to its mammoth arrogance the compliment of graphic homage.
    • Clyfford Still i Interview with Ti Grace Sharpless, 1963; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrams Publishers New York 1990, p. 201
  • As for 'taste' as a criterion of painting I find that it is most frequently applied to work that is essentially insensitive, brutal or vulgar beyond question. Could it now be a term with political undertones to seduce, or cover profounder motives of exploitation? I propose it be kept to the wine cellar. There it deceives no one but him who over-indulges.
    • Clyfford Still, interview with Ti Grace Sharpless, 1963; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrams Publishers New York 1990, p. 201

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