Sundays with Clyfford Still: Carrying the fire (7)

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

This is number 7  in the series.  You can read the other posts here.


PH1033-1976, by Clyfford Still

Today’s painting is PH1033, dating from 1976.    Bolts of jagged orange blaze their way through a cold white background like lava burning through an ice sheet.  A dab of brown on the left, which seems to float in arctic calm despite the orange bursting like a solar flare next to it, balances the monumental violence on the right.

“You can turn the lights out. The paintings will carry their own fire. ”  — Clyfford Still

Clyfford in front of canvas

Clyfford Still's painting tools

Clyff's painting tools (credit: Cyrus McCrimmon

Here we have Clyffie’s palette and painting knives.  He painted with knives rather than brushes.  And he didn’t clean them any better than I do mine.   The last painting he ever painted was mostly yellow, it looks like.  (Want to see more palettes of famous artists?  Click here.)

Questions or comments?  You are warmly invited to leave a comment below, or tweet to me with the hashtag #clyffordlove.

Sundays with Clyfford Still: Why did he leave the art world? (6)

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

This is number 6 in the series.  You can read the other posts here.


Clyfford profile in color

A rare color photo of Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still turned his back on the the art world and went on rejecting its elitism and snobbery for the rest of his life, only to be embraced and immortalized after his death.  It’s a genius strategy, because after you’re dead nobody can argue with you.  Nobody wants to disrespect the dead.   Still was perfectly aware that artists who have starved in obscure garrets all their lives are suddenly pounced upon as soon as they die, gobbled up and assimilated into the world of the “culturati”.  He just didn’t want that process to happen while he was alive, because being part of high society is fucking tiresome.

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Art Quote of the Day: Women artists expected to give up more to achieve less

Welcome to Gender Oppression Week here at Exiled Stardust.

That achievement in the arts, as in any field of endeavor, demands struggle and sacrifice is undeniable; that this has certainly been true after the middle of the 19th century, when the traditional institutions of artistic support and patronage no longer fulfilled their customary obligations, is also undeniable. One has only to think of Delacroix, Courbet, Degas, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec as examples of great artists who gave up the distractions and obligations of family life, at least in part, so that they could pursue their artistic careers more single-mindedly.  Yet none of them wa automatically denied the pleasure of sex or companionship on account of this choice.  Nor did they ever conceive that they had sacrificed their manhood or their sexual role on account of their single-mindedness in achieving professional fulfillment.  But if the artist in question happened to be a woman, one thousand years of guilt, self-doubt, and objecthood would have been added to the undeniable difficulties of being an artist in the modern world.

…Always a model but never an artist might well have served as the motto of the seriously aspiring young woman of the arts of the 19th century.

— Linda Nochlin

…and of the 20th and 21st centuries. Emphasis mine.

The rest of Nochlin’s excellent article is here and is fascinating to read despite the typos.

Every woman artist, just like every other woman, has had the difficult choice of either not having a family, or struggling to produce quality work despite the massive energy drain of coping with a husband and children – because even now in a time where men and women are supposedly “nearly equal”, women still do the lion’s share of the domestic labor.

Society romanticizes the Great (male) Artist as he goes his rebellious way in life, struggling to express his genius, and he is sure to be immortal someday, but when a woman does the same thing, she’s just a weird chick who is playing around with art because she couldn’t get a man, and no need to take her seriously.

If men and women are “nearly equal” now, why are women artists still trivialized or ignored?

“Gentle artists” get eaten alive, and/or fade into obscurity

John Cecil Stephenson

Detail of work by John Cecil Stephenson at the Durham Art Gallery.

“Until last weekend, John Cecil Stephenson had been largely neglected with no public gallery or museum staging any exhibition of his work in almost 40 years – an injustice finally righted by Durham Art Gallery, 47 years after his death.” (Mark Brown, Guardian arts correspondent)  Read the full article.

You see what we have to deal with.   Artists now are expected to be human self-promoting machines.

And you’d better be slick with your personal presentation.  If you’re a woman, you’d better be as beautiful as possible.  (Men get to look like whatever, because they’re considered actual humans, not decoration.)

All this feverish marketing and social game-playing sucks up so much energy; what is left to go into the art?  What sort of art world do we end up with?

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Palettes of famous painters

Vincent Van Gogh's palette

Vincent Van Gogh's palette

Over at Retronaut they have a photo feature about the palettes of famous artists.  You can see the actual palettes used by Delacroix, Renoir, Degas, SeuratMoreau, Gauguin, and this one by Van Gogh.

The palettes themselves are interesting little works of abstract art, with random their swirls of color.  It is amusing how even Seurat’s palette looks pontillist: he’s laid out his colors in neat little dots.

Next time I’m scraping the dried paint off my palette with a knife and cursing myself for letting it get that way, I’ll remember how many other artists, even famous ones, didn’t clean their palettes either.  Maybe this is the universe’s way of saying it has big plans for me.

Got something to say?  Say it in the comments box below.

Art Quote of the Day: Once Upon A Time, Artists Made Art

From SFMOMA’s Open Space Blog comes this piece of blistering brilliance from Chris Cobb:

Once upon a time artists mostly produced art. These days however, artists are supposed to put on shows, curate shows, deal with media, with marketing, with galleries (and with gallerists!), with designing their own websites, with photographing their work, with not dressing like a slob, with paying rent for both their apartment and their studio, buy supplies for their art, do their own carpentry, know their own cultural context, understand art history, be hip to whatever current famous European philosopher is popular (was Derrida now it’s Slavoj Žižek), be aware of what’s going on in the art scene (extra points for knowing what’s going on in the literary scene too), maybe speak at least one other language (two is better), having basic working knowledge of a guitar or piano is another plus, be able to outdrink other artists, and if need be, should have enough stamina to stay up all night at parties…

Read the entire post over at SFMOMA’s Open Space.

Quote of the Day: artists and healthcare in the U.S.

When you don’t have what is considered a real job in the United States of America, you don’t have access to what are commonly known as ‘benefits’ in this country.

You get offers for so-called ‘affordable’ health care coverage, but I’m sorry, $500 per month is neither affordable or reasonable for an independent contractor or freelance worker in this country.

There’s a lot of shame in our community around this issue, shame about being outside of the ‘normal’ system.

— Laura Colby


This is the most brilliant idea I have possibly ever heard of:  artists trading their artistic services in return for free healthcare.   Click here to read more at the NYFA website.

The American healthcare and “benefits” system is the most brutal in the so-called civilized world. Had my own state a program like this, I may have never had to become an expat.

Woodhull Medical Center

Woodhull Medical Center, which hosts this program


Artists: Do your own work. And why ateliers suck.

Some people out there who call themselves artists and make a lot of money at it never touch the work that bears their names except to sign it.  If they even bother doing that.

Their defenders insist that there’s nothing wrong with this, because historically artists worked in atelier systems where a stableful of apprentices created the work under the guidance of the artist, who got the credit.

Garden at Vaucresson by Edouard Vuillard

Garden at Vaucresson by Edouard Vuillard, who painted this all by himself

History fetishists seem to think that just because something has been done in the past by a lot of people means that it’s a good idea, or at least an acceptable one.  By that logic, slavery would be OK.   It would even be preferable, since slavery has a far longer pedigree than freedom.

That’s what the historical atelier was, basically:  slavery.  The apprentice slaved to please an often tyrannical master who did little of the work and reaped all of the profit.  The apprentice supposedly got an education out of the deal but little else.

Don’t let the glamour cast by historians obscure the facts: the atelier was, and is, a sweatshop of art.

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Action and Expression, from the Tate Gallery

This week’s Tate Debate posed the question, “How important is physical action in your thinking about or expression of a creative idea?”

It’s very important, but something we often overlook because we live so much in our own heads, forgetting our bodies.  Or at least I do.

Click here to share your own thoughts on the subject.