Sundays with Clyfford Still: Far away, so close (13)

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

This is number 13  in the series.  You can read the other posts here.

This week we are looking at two views of 1950-A No.2 – one in a gallery setting and the other an extreme closeup.  Close-up shots are great.  You really learn a lot about an artist by the brush or knife marks on the canvas.

1950-A No. 2

1950-A No.2 by Clyfford Still (center) alongside a Rothko. Photo: C-Monster

A lone black spot in the heart of the sun.

Detail from Clyfford Still's 1950-A No. 2 by AlbinoFlea

Detail from Clyfford Still’s 1950-A No. 2 by AlbinoFlea

While we’re on the topic of divergent views:

If you are interested in Clyfford Still’s early life, there are two posts on the Still museum’s blog about his mother and father, including this sketch done when Clyfford was only 26.

Sketch of Elmer Still by Clyfford Still

Sketch of Elmer Still by Clyfford Still. Photo: Clyfford Still Museum


Bailey Harburg describes Still’s early life with his father.  It’s pretty clear to me that there was child abuse going on, which is why I’m a little disturbed by these words: “However, Elmer’s unsympathetic attitude ultimately paved the way for Clyfford to brazenly navigate a similarly harsh art world.”

This sounds to me almost like a justification of child abuse, which I am sure Harburg did not intend.  But just because Still was able to make his way in the art world (at least for a while, until he rejected it) does not mean that he somehow transcended his abuse, or even worse, that abuse somehow inspires people to overcome.  Because this is a backhanded justification for abuse that even abusers use.  Toughen up!  It’ll make you a man!  Et cetera.  In response to the old cliche, “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,”  the comedian Dennis Miller once remarked: “Whatever doesn’t kill you messes you up for a really long time, and you’re lucky if you ever get it together.”

I would disagree that the abuse Clyfford suffered held for him any kind of benefit.  The damage done to his developing sense of self would later manifest in paranoia and a need control that sabotaged many of his relationships. The unyielding and uncompromising force of his personality kept him from being crushed by his past, but he and the people around him still paid a heavy price.

Still’s closest and most enduring relationships were with his wife and daughters – all women.  He saw men as a threat, and that undoubtedly was caused by his troubled relationship with his father.  He never had a son, but it is interesting to imagine what might have happened if he had.  I suspect it would not have gone so well.

Still was a complex and deeply sensitive man who internalized some of the abuse he suffered as a child and turned it on some of his closest friends.  It’s not necessary to justify this, or to smooth over his early life, to make him more sympathetic.   Part of what makes Still so interesting is that he is often unsympathetic.

Questions? Comments?  Talk to me in the box below, or tweet with the hashtag #clyffordlove.

One thought on “Sundays with Clyfford Still: Far away, so close (13)

  1. When I stood infront of a Still (I’ve mentioned this I believe) you felt that you were going to fall into it. A strong presence it was.

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