Sundays with Clyfford Still: Beyond This Dark Place (3)

Welcome to Sundays with Clyfford Still.  I’m your host, M.K. Hajdin.

This episode is third in the series.  You can find the others here.


Life imitates art.  It’s spring,  the branches outside are budding, and a painter once nearly forgotten is bringing new life to the art world.  And to me.

Today’s Clyfford Still painting is from the early phase of his career.  In the late 1930s, he was still painting recognizable figures, but his works were losing their forms and becoming more and more abstract.   The work below,  now at the SFMoMA, is his most abstracted work from 1936-1937.   He went on to create the first abstract expressionist painting in 1944.

Still went the opposite way of Rothko:   Rothko’s paintings faded over time from brilliant color into ever darker and more somber hues, like an ember burning out.

Still seems far more comfortable with the darkness.  But he is in the process of pushing out of the dark place into the pure intensity of the color field, just as his long-buried body of work has finally begun to appear before the public eye.

Clyfford Still, 1936-7 No. 12, 1936-1937

Clyfford Still, 1936-7-No. 2, 1936-1937; painting; oil on canvas, 63 5/8 in. x 33 1/8 in. (161.62 cm x 84.15 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of the artist; © Clyfford Still Estate

Thanks to @Still_Museum@SFMOMA and @annCT_B for the photo.

This week:

Two articles about Clyff

I’ve read two long features about Still, one from Tyler Green and the other from Geoff Van Dyke, and I want to comment on both in future posts.   Green’s dislike of Still has tainted his opinion, though his facts are reasonably sound.  I give him credit for trying, but he’s no armchair psychologist – and even an expert psychologist would have difficulty figuring out Clyfford Still.

Van Dyke’s piece was much fairer, and written with a satisfying balance of vividness and clarity. His opening sentences are unforgettable:

At first, all you see is black. The work is like a six-foot-by-five-foot black hole sucking you and everything else nearby into it. You cannot escape its pull, and so you step a bit closer, and you see the texture of the black pigment, raw lavalike hunks of paint coming off the canvas.  (Read it all here).

About the format of  Sundays with Clyfford Still:

Readers, I would like to hear from you.

I am thinking of doing a format of two long posts and two short ones for every month.  A short post will read much like this one,  featuring a work and a few paragraphs about it: a long post will go into much greater depth.

You know I’d write ten pages about Clyff every Sunday if I could, but the dishes are piling up and so is the laundry.

How much Clyff do you want to see every week?  Let me know in the comment box below.

Or you can tweet me on the channel #clyffordlove.

4 thoughts on “Sundays with Clyfford Still: Beyond This Dark Place (3)

  1. Pingback: Quote of the Day: What doesn’t work « Exiled Stardust

  2. I remember seeing Still’s work and thinking “cows”…ragged color field canvases inspired by holstein-like patterns spilling off the edges. I liked the Rothos better, but was intrigued by Still. Thanks for providing some background about him : )

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