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.

Quotes of Clyfford Still[edit]

1950s[edit]

  • 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.
    • As quoted in Abstract Expressionism, Davind Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd London, 1990, p. 137
  • [These are] not paintings in the usual sense, they are life and death merging in fearful union.
    • Clyfford Still (ca. 1950) as quoted in Abstract Expressionism, Davind Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd London, 1990, p. 138: About his own work
  • Through them [his paintings] I breathe again.
    • Clyfford Still (1950) as quoted in Abstract Expressionism, Davind Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd London, 1990, p. 145 : Statement for his 1950 show about his paintings
  • 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
  • ..the light suggests no particular time of day or night [in the paintings of Paul Cézanne ]; it is not appropriated from morning or afternoon, sunlight or shadow.
    • In: 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 free vision could be achieved, and an 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: THE Vision of Christ that thou 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

1960s[edit]

  • I am not an action painter. Each painting is an act. The result of action and the fulfillment 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 in an 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, in an 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
  • I do not want other artists to imitate my work – they do even when I tell them not to – but only [ imitate] my example for freedom and independence from all external, decadent and corrupting influences..
    • In: 'A period of Exploration', McChesney, as quoted in The New York school – the painters & sculptors of the fifties, Irving Sandler, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978, p 35
  • ..the idea that an artist is nothing unless he accepts the total responsibility for everything that he does.. ..by making a responsible move that he makes a statement.. .You can make a picture out of truth.
    • In: 'A period of Exploration', McChesney, as quoted in The New York school – the painters & sculptors of the fifties, Irving Sandler, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978, p 35

Quotes about Clyfford Still[edit]

  • The important thing is that Clyff Still – you know his work? – and Rothko, and I – we’ve changed the nature of painting.. .I don’t mean there aren’t any other good painters. Bill [= Willem de Kooning ] is a good painter, but he’s a "French" painter. I told him so, the last time I saw him after his last show.. ..all those pictures in his last show start with an image.
    • Jackson Pollock, as quoted in Conversations with Artists, by Seldon Rodman, New York, Capricorn Books, 1961, pp. 84-85
  • His work [of Clyfford Still] has a visceral impact, the paintings stare back at me and the viewer. I don’t know many other artists who induce quite the same kind of electric charge – a true frisson. Yet it’s not just this kind of high voltage drama that grabs me, what I also find remarkable is that Still managed to combine this intensity with a rare degree of subtlety and delicacy.
  • There were two, epic, landmarks in Still’s pictorial trajectory. The first is a painting known as '1944' – probably the first largest radical statement of tendencies that would later be hallmarked as Abstract expressionism. Even in Pollock and Rothko certainly there is nothing to match the precocity and extremism of this huge black field canvas.. .Perhaps Still’s second landmark painting is in Albright - Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, known as '1957-D'. I choose this [for the show] because it’s in a public collection and has become one of the most iconic statements of Abstract expressionism.
  • "In The 1950's he [Clyfford Still] began to take a great dislike to all art critics. He specifically singled out w:Emily Genauer, the art critic for the New York Herald Tribune. He mailed Genaurer a pair of baby rubber pants tagged with the note 'Hoping this will help conceal your Sunday afflictions', yours sincerely, Clyfford Still. She kept them and eventually donated the rubber incontinence pants to the Archive of American Art. I’d love to see an artist do that to say a critic like Roberta Smith or Andrew Graham Dixon. It takes a heck of a lot of spunk to burn your bridges behind you in that intractable way. What Still effectively did by his example was to throw the money lenders out of the temple.

External links[edit]

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