Sundays with Clyfford Still: His wife was an artist too, but no one remembers (5)

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

This is number 5 in the series.  You can read the other posts here.

Clyfford Still and Patricia Still

Patricia Still and Clyfford Still.  (credit)

This week on Sundays with Clyfford Still we will be talking about a little known but vital part of Clyff’s life and work:  his wife, Patricia.

Patricia Still, like so many other wives of Great Artists, was an artist herself who got subsumed into her husband’s life and work.   As happens with so many other wives, all of her energy and lifeforce went into sustaining her husband, until she  lost her own identity and became part of him.  After he died, she managed his estate and made sure his last wishes were carried out.  The Clyfford Still museum in Denver was the result of her labor.

I couldn’t find a single image of her work anywhere.  (If anyone knows where I can find some, please contact me.)

However feisty and independent these women may be, as wives they are sucked into the gravitational pull of the genius male and are overshadowed, if not obliterated altogether.

This phenomenon is accepted uncritically by many male historians and critics who assume that women and their work are naturally inferior and that they are glad to shed their own lesser talent for the opportunity to be part of a legend, although a legend with a man’s name and a face that is not their own.

These women were not weak, foolish or unwise.  They are the products of a society that systematically deprives women of resources until they are forced to align with men for survival — then demands their submission, their energy, their will and even their very lives as payment.

Is it Clyfford Still’s fault?  No, I can’t say that it is.

Contrary to the popular idea of artists as being wayward, romantic substance abusers,  Still was a quiet, responsible family man.  The process of subsuming another human being and holding them in subjection is ubiquitously held as tradition in our culture; he alone cannot be held responsible for it – though it could be asked:  since Still rebelled against so many other institutions, why didn’t he rebel against that one?

My answer is this:

He couldn’t rebel against the very thing that kept him alive.

The erasure of women artists is not the fault of any single person, but the result of an oppressive framework which must be identified, targeted and dismantled before all of us have the freedom to be full and complete humans in our own right.   Only then will women stop disappearing.

PH-77 by Clyfford Still

PH-77 by Clyfford Still. Photo credit: Barry Goralnick

Today’s painting is from 1937, when Still was still painting figuratively.  Still’s work was deeply influenced by his father’s life as a poor farmer.  The viewer can almost  feel the aching backs of these these laborers as they scratch a meager living from an unwilling earth that will eventually swallow them whole.