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Friday, February 18, 2005

Clyfford Still: More than American

From the most ancient time the artist has been expected to perpetuate the values of his contemporaries. The record is mainly one of frustration, sadism, superstition, and the will to power. The anxious find comfort in the confusion of those artists who would walk beside them. The values involved however permit no peace, and mutual resentment is deep when it is discovered that salvation cannot be bought. We are now committed to an unqualified act, not illustrating outworn myths or contemporary alibis. The artist must accept total repsonsibiity 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.

-Both of these checks are for your account?
-Is that your name?
-It is, yes.
-Oh. It seems to be different.
-Well people have told me I seem to be different.
-How do you say your name, sir?
-When I was little it was Clyfford.
-Is it Clyfford still?

Every painting a journal entry, in totality an autobiography. In that context it is admirable that his paintings were very rarely split up, for Clyfford Still valiantly, if cantankerously, lived to create his work and keep his work as just that. He tried so hard to create life itself in each of his paintings, fusing color, form, and texture, yet when I first saw one I saw decay. No matter really because it's much the same thing, and nonetheless I was enthralled. Many years later while working in the decorating industry, every time I was required to scrape and prime a garage door for painting, I did so in homage to Clyfford Still.

Housing 750 of his paintings, plus hundreds more works on paper, in a single dedicated museum will instantly render the collection an international treasure of the highest order and elevate Still to his true status within his own country. Given that the relative virginty of a recent Modigliani (due to its private ownership out of public view for so long) contributed largely to its record price of thirty-odd million dollars, one can't help wonder at the scale of the Still gift to the city of Denver, Colorado.

Not known for fun, Clyfford Still was reknown for being socially difficult except when talking about his work. Aside from painting itself, he was most at ease when discussion of his work was the sole focus of conversation.

Until the pilgrimage when the museum in Denver is ready, we have the minorly magnificent Albright-Knox - which runs to early April 2005.

Paul Dorrell says: "Be willing to talk. You don't need to only talk about your work, although if you want to sell, conversation will eventually have to gravitate in that direction. Still, don't make discussion of your work the sole focus of the evening."


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