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The Morning Report — 1/17/23 | Main | Wednesday Morning Rant [Joe Mannix]
January 18, 2023

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Still 57 1.jpg

1957-D No. 1
Clyfford Still

Abstract Expressionism exploded onto the art scene after World War II and was the premier style in Western art during the 1950s. The artwork is characterized by large areas of undefined but highly expressive color or line, and monumental scale. Abstract Expressionism uses its vigorous application of painting’s elements to stimulate the viewer’s emotions. It has two main sub-styles. The one most familiarized by Jackson Pollock is called “gestural painting.” Clyfford Still’s work is of the other type: color-field painting.

Unlike many of the other "AbEx"-ers, Still grew up in the American West, with wide-open spaces and huge landscapes. Because of this, some think he wanted to replicate the feelings one has when viewing the awesome wonder of Nature. The total abstraction of the work is supposed to force me to encounter the work on my own terms without any outside hints or influences, even Still’s. This is also why the title is what it is. The work exists and I experience it on my own with my own impressions, expressions and emotions, producing a unique and individual meaning.

This painting is enormous, almost 9 ½ by 13 ¼ feet. It is meant to be stared at and absorbed by the viewer, and when I stand in front of it it fills my entire vision. My view is dominated by this huge area of black. It reminds me of a large hole or void. This black mass is cut through with slashes of yellow, white, and red which interrupt the heavy void. They attempt to fill the emptiness. I don’t think this work is meant to be a cave, but it reminds me of one with light reflecting off the crystals and minerals.

I think this painting conflicts with itself. The blackness is a void which should be weightless and empty. Instead, it is extremely “heavy.” It dominates the massive work. Standing in front of it, that’s all I see at first, then as I look around, the yellow pours through the nothingness. The yellow is bright but not a vivid as it could be. White and splashes of red dull its intensity. Yellow should dominate because of the amount used and the characteristic brilliance of the color. Here, yellow is fighting to get through the much stronger black. Because of this, for me, the painting has a slightly negative, violent mood. It makes me uncomfortable.

Clyfford Still was one of the early pioneers of Abstract Expressionism, transitioning exclusively to the style almost a full decade before many of the other big names of the movement, such as Pollack or de Kooning. Still was also one of its biggest critics. After joining the New York School (Abstract Expressionism) for a time in the ‘50s, he became disillusioned by the contemporary art scene and removed himself in a self-imposed exile.

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