Lot 20
  • 20

Clyfford Still

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Description

  • Clyfford Still
  • 1960-F
  • signed, titled and dated 1960-F on the reverse
  • oil on canvas

Provenance

Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York (acquired in 1969)
Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston
Ernst Beyeler, New York (acquired from the above in 1987)
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1992

Exhibited

New York, Artist's Studio, 128 West 23rd Street, 1960
Westminster, Md., Artist's Studio, 1962
Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Clyfford Still, October - December 1963, cat. no. 25, illustrated
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Clyfford Still, October - November 1969, cat. no. 38, p. 75, illustrated in color
Lubbock, Museum of Texas Tech University; Fort Worth Art Museum; San Antonio Museum, American Abstract Expressionist Paintings from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, 1976-1977, illustrated in color on title page
Akron Art Institute; Birmingham, Museum of Art; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Lincoln, University of Nebraska; Oklahoma City Art Center; Evanston, Northwestern University, Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, American Abstract Expressionist Paintings from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, 1983-1985, illustrated in color (and illustrated in color on the cover of the Santa Barbara pamphlet)
Madison Art Center; Corpus Christi State University; Sacramento, Crocker Art Gallery,  American Abstract Expressionist Paintings from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, February - August 1986
Perth, Art Gallery of Western Australia; Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, America: Art and the West, December 1986 - April 1987, cat. no. 67, illustrated in color
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Exploring Abstraction, July - September 1989, cat, no. 88, illustrated in color
New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Clyfford Still, Dark Hues/Close Values, October – November 1990, np., illustrated in color
Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau; London, Royal Academy of Arts, Amerikanische Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, Malerei und Plastik 1913 - 1993, May - December 1993, cat. no. 106, illustrated in color
Hamburg, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Still, Rauschenberg, Newman, Kline, 1994-1995
Hamburg, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Extended Loan, 1997 - 2001
Barcelona, Museu d’Art Contemporani; Serralves, Museu Serralves, Museu d’Arte Contemporanea, The Onnasch Collection: Aspects of Contemporary Art, November 2001 – February 2002, p. 51, illustrated in color

Literature

Time Magazine, November 29, 1963, vol. 82, no. 22, illustrated
Ti-Grace Sharpless, ``Freedom...absolute and infinitely exhilirating..'', Art News, vol. 62, no. 7, November 1963, p. 38, illustrated
``Clyfford Still'', Artforum, vol. II, no. 5, December 1963, p. 34, illustrated in color
Lawrence Alloway, ``Residual Sign Systems in Abstract Expressionism'', Artforum, vol. XII, no. 3, November 1973, p. 41, illustrated in color
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Major Works from the Weisman Collection and other Private Collections, Zurich, 1990, pl. no. 27, illustrated in color
Bernhard Kerber, Bestände Onnasch, Berlin and Bremen, 1992, p. 37, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

"By 1941, space and the figure in my canvases had been resolved into a total psychic entity, freeing me from the limitations of each, yet fusing into an instrument bounded only by the limits of my energy and intuition. My feeling of freedom was now absolute and infinitely exhilarating.’’ Clyfford Still, 1963

"What then is Sill pursuing: what is he after? Are these vast abstractions conceived in terms of orthodox space? I think not, for though one is often swept into them by some hypnotic pull, it is not space per se that counts. Nor is it form which here coalesces into space as the two become one moving, expanding, receding system. The paintings seem to inhale and exhale, to respond to stimuli like living organisms. It is the organic activity that sets them apart.’’  Katherine Kuh

 

Clyfford Still was a masterful painter, approaching a canvas with formidable purpose and a desire to express the inexpressible. Each stroke, each nuance of surface, each color is assiduously applied as a means of self-expression. Although frequently associated with Abstract Expressionism, and influential in the careers of many fellow artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, Still belongs to no one genre or school. While he was not alone in seeking an ``American’’ art unfettered by the European tradition, Still believed in the integrity of a rigorously personal style of painting which functioned as an organic part of the individual artist rather than a generalized style or movement. Still’s forthright independent morality was incomparable, as he championed painting as the pure realization of an artist’s unique creative identity.  As Still stated in 1963 when an exhibition of his paintings was the inaugural show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, ``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. The dominant ones, cubism and expressionism, only reflected the attitudes of power or spiritual debasement of the individual.’’  (Ti-Grace A. Sharpless, Clyfford Still, Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Art, 1963, p. 5)

In statements about his work, Still frequently referred to painting as an `instrument’, revealing his belief that art was a total idea, encompassing life and death, freedom and subjugation. Still saw art as influential in society and it was the artist’s responsibility to use the instrument of paint as a confrontation with his inner self and with society as a whole. Each stroke on the canvas was a challenge to be independent of others and of the past – to find meaning in life as one found independent expression in paint. Similar to other young American painters in the 1940s, Still felt a need to break with the Modernist and Renaissance influences of Europe, but he extended this sense of rebellion to a refusal to accept conformity of any sort – from the commercialism of the dealer world to the dictates of taste and fashion.  As Still wrote in 1959, ``It has always been my hope to create a free place or area of life where an idea can transcend politics, ambition and commerce. ….I had made it clear that a single stroke of paint, backed by work and a mind that understood its potency and implications, could restore to man the freedom lost in twenty centuries of apology and devices of subjugation’’ (``Clyfford Still’’, Artforum, December 1963, vol. II, no. 5, p. 32)

Still’s streak of individualism was a product both of his heritage as a Western American – a pioneer spirit that he shared with Jackson Pollock – and the more philosophical concerns of the twentieth century’s existential disharmony. Friedrich Nietzche’s philosophy of an unfettered soul that transcends a moribund past to create a radical present also saw art as a matter of good and evil, as well as life and death.  This sense of apocalyptic extremes was shared not only by Still, but fellow artists Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, who all strove to harness the organic life force in paint to express the Sublime. In denying the exhausted and decadent precedents of the recent past, Still and other artists championed the more distant past of primitive art as a purer source of inspiration.  Still interacted often, if not easily, with Rothko and Newman in the 1940s, as they all sought to achieve the ecstatic through primal painted forms that abandoned the human figure as the subject matter for art, leaving the human gesture of paint to signify the human presence in art.

Still’s artistic quest culminated in expansive masterpieces of monumental proportion, nuanced surface and colorful intensity such as 1960-F. Pollock opened the way with his  death-of-easel painting that produced canvases halfway between the easel and the wall. By the late 1940s, Still, along with Newman and Rothko, also began to expand the size of their paintings but with a more simplified fusion of shape, color and form than other artists identified as Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning.  Monumental in scale, the mature paintings of Still, Newman and Rothko became unfettered fields of color with a holistic imagery of form and line that aimed at momentous content and sublime beauty.

As Still commented, ``To be stopped by a frame’s edge was intolerable; a Euclidean prison that had to be annihilated, its authoritarian implications repudiated without dissolving one’s individual integrity’’ (Ti-Grace A. Sharpless, ``Freedom …absolute and infinitely exhilarating’’, Art News, November 1963, vol. 62, no. 7, p. 37).  1960-F is a classic example of the wall-sized expanse that Still craved, which paralleled the expansion of aesthetic limits that he sought.  Edmund Burke’s treatise, Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beauty described many of the formal properties that 1960-F represents in Still’s oeuvre, as well as Newman and Rothko. The Sublime was to have a character of infinity – limitless space – that has the effect on the spectator’s mind of being dominated by an immense object, such as the horizontal expanse of 1960-F. Still’s preference, echoed especially by Rothko, was to exhibit his works together without the intervention of other painters’ works, thus extending this concept to overwhelm the spectator in the round. For today’s viewers, the experience of immense and enveloping art is no longer a novelty, so it is difficult to grasp the radical nature of Still’s proportions; Still’s legacy to younger artists - from painters as disparate as Andy Warhol to sculptors such as Richard Serra to Olafur Eliasson’s recent installation The Weather Project at the Tate Modern – has almost inured us from the shock of the spectacle of scale.

Burke’s concept of infinity went beyond a simple use of size to include the unity of construction visible in the large expanse of 1960-F. By eliminating figuration or narrative intent from his canvases, Still orchestrated his strokes and surfaces into the setting for his real subject matter, which is the drama of the interaction of painted forms.  Still’s stroke is definite and muscular, a painterly fracture that is applied with a scraping and cutting palette knife rather than laid down with a brush. His technique was a physical presence that intimates rocky slopes, jagged flames and other rugged natural forms, despite the artist’s own insistence that art did not mimic nature, but was an extension of the artist himself. In 1960-F, Still’s accumulated strokes of color typically build into crescendos that interweave and masses that overwhelm, in an organic formation that fills the canvas and intimates a continuation beyond the picture plane.

Still’s painterly application was in perfect sync with his foreboding and unusual palette. Edmund Burke had declared ``sad, fuscous colors, as black, or brown, or deep purple’’ to be appropriate to the Sublime, as they connoted the ``majestic strength of our ties to the earth.’’ (Lawrence Alloway, ``Residual Sign Systems in Abstract Expressionism’’, Artforum, November 1973, p. 40)  Such somber color ranges were significant in the development of the art of Still, Rothko and Newman, yet each knew the value of expanding their palettes to include not only the `dark’ colors, such as the brown, blacks and dark blue of 1960-F to the `light’ colors of orange, red and yellow. The punctuation of reds and yellows enveloped by the surrounding browns of 1960-F burst forth at the far right into broad flashes of red that flow upward to the top of the canvas as they curve down toward the far right corner, pulling the composition resolutely toward the viewer’s right.  By using counterpoints of color that harmonized with the more somber grounds, the artists highlighted the importance of the paradox of light within dark which constitutes radiance as an image of revelation to the Sublime. Still’s awe-inspiring 1960-F, with its signature fusion of form, space and color, sets Still apart from his contemporaries. ``Space in a Still painting is conceived to be infinite in its dimensions, and everything else in the work – every variation of shape and color and texture – serves to reinforce this initial impression of immensity, this sense of a vast, untethered, somewhat unearthly space without fixed boundaries. …This visionary space .. is one of the truly original inventions of modern painting.’’ (Hilton Kramer, `` Art: Clyfford Still Show at the Met’’, The New York Times, November 16, 1979).

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