Sunday, August 07, 2016

Still Noir

Mural on the Clyfford Still Museum, Denver.

This glowering portrait of artist Clyfford Still might well be from a Howard Hecht film noir. His emotionless face and the angry descriptor to his left called for the cool black and white treatment and then some applied noise to give it a newsprint sensibility.

Still was an early Abstract Expressionist among whose post-war contemporaries were Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. He was the first among them to discard recognizable subject matter and to employ great fields of color, later described as Color Field painting, to explore existential conflicts and grand themes such as creation, life and death. Of his work Still said, “they are life and death merging in fearful union.” This struggle was expressed through vertical forms that soar through his paintings and described by Still as “the vertical necessity of life.”

The artist was a prickly character who disdained the New York art scene, ignored criticism and who assiduously controlled how is work was marketed, collected and shown. He died his own man in Maryland in 1980.