Clyfford Still, Color Field Painting, And Abstract Expressionism

Clyfford Still is one of the greatest American AbstractExpressionism Color Field painters. He is considered one of essential Abstract Expressionism painters to ever lived.

Clyfford Still is an Abstract Expressionism artist who is known as a color field Abstract Expressionism artist. He is best known for his colorful yet jagged-edged paintings that are oversized and thought-provoking. Many of his paintings were never sold, yet he was an extraordinarily prolific and influential Abstract Expressionism painter.

Clyfford Still And Abstract Expressionism

Clyfford Still started taking art seriously when he was in high school. He was so good that he was able to win a scholarship to college. He spent the first part of his life teaching at the University level.

When Clyfford Still was teaching in San Francisco from 1946 to 1950, he started to develop his signature art style of Abstract Expressionism.

He is considered one of the greatest Abstract Expressionism artists. However, like many other artists, he did not sell many pieces of his artwork during his lifetime. Clyfford Still kept most of it together in one collection.

That is why the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver is so important, as the museum was given his entire collection of art so that Clyfford Still’s art could be enjoyed in full.

Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado

In speaking of his painting process Clyfford Still said this:

”A great free joy surges through me when I work… with tense slashes and a few thrusts the beautiful white fields receive their color and the work is finished in a few minutes.”

Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still – Color Field Painting And Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism Artists

Clyfford Stills is usually categorized as an Abstract Expressionist artist who started color field painting along with Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. Color field painting is considered a style of Abstract Expressionism painting.

The color field painters were generally concerned with religion and myths and used color to create a contemplative or meditational response from the viewers. Clyfford Still speaks about how people should interpret his paintings and says this:

“People should look at the work itself and determine its meaning to them. I prefer the innocent reaction of those who might think that they see cloud shapes in my paintings to what [a critic] says that he sees in them.”

Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still’s paintings were unique from other abstract expressionism because he was also known to mix color field painting with action painting. Clyfford Still blended the two forms of Abstract Expressionism, the color field painting and action painting, in his paintings.

That is why many of the other great Abstract Expressionism painters, such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman, were thought to look to Clyfford Still to see what he was doing with his painting and be inspired by it.

About Clyfford Still – And His Paintings

To fully understand Clyfford Still, you need to understand his way of painting or what set him apart from other Abstract Expressionism artists of his time. Here are some of the significant ways:

Clyfford Still’s Imagery

Clyfford Still’s imagery is unique. His artwork does not contain natural forms but instead usually large jagged objects.

PH – 119 (1948) By Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still’s way of panting is very different from other color field painters, particularly Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.

Clyfford Still said this about his art:

“I felt it necessary to evolve entirely new concepts — of form and space and painting — and postulate them in an instrument that could continue to shake itself free from dialectical perversions.”

Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still’s Art Is Large Scale

One of the great things about Still’s work is its large and massive size. The painting would often play to the canvas’s very edge.

Clyfford Still Used Large Scale (Photo Credit To The New York Times)

There is usually not one focal point for the painting, but there are many focal points. In speaking of the large size of his images, Still said:

“It’s intolerable to be stopped by a frame’s edge.”

Clyfford Still

Part of the large-scale canvas was so there was movement on the canvas. When you look at one of Clyfford Still’s paintings, your eye usually goes all over the canvas as there is a lot of movement and a lot going on the canvas.

Clyfford Still’s Painting Technique

Clyfford Still was known to apply his paint with a trowel and palette knife as he would layer his paint on the canvas making his trademark jagged edges. His paint would sometimes be layered very thick and, other times, significantly thinner.

Clyfford Techniques In Painting

The way he applied the paint on the canvas gives the canvases a unique, almost three-dimensional feel up close. You can practically feel him applying the paint onto the canvas surface.

The Lifeline And Clyfford Stills

Lifeline Clyfford Still

One theme that runs through Clyfford Stills’s work is a small line. He called it a lifeline.

When he was young, his father dug a well on their farm to see if there was water; he dropped the young Clyfford Stills down the well hanging him by his ankles with a rope.

In many of Clyfford Still’s paintings, you will see small lines that may go up and down or around the canvas – they all refer to this line or what he called the lifeline. Clyfford Still felt that Barnett Newman copied him after seeing some of Still’s work and also started using a line on his canvases.

Many people who look at Still’s paintings may mistake them as being simple, but in reality, they are very complex works of art that are layered upon layer. Some areas are thick, and other areas are thin. It is all part of his painting technique and our experience with the canvas.

In speaking of this, Clyfford Still said:

“I  do not intend to oversimplify – in fact, I revel in the extra-complex.”

Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still is one of the greatest Abstract Expressionism artists and one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century. He showed us all a way to paint and appreciate art; his art continues to inspire many artists today.

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