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.

Continue reading

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.

Sundays with Clyfford Still: Clyff was the first punk (4)

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

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


.1962-D by Clyfford Still

1962-D by Clyfford Still

Here we have one of his paintings from 1962.  A round red shape not unlike a sun peeks out from behind jagged black and white veils.

“I hold it imperative to evolve an instrument of thought which will aid in cutting through all cultural opiates, past and present, so that a direct, immediate, and truly free vision can be achieved. . .and I affirm my profound concern to achieve a purpose beyond vanity, ambition, or remembrance.”  — Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still was about piercing the illusion, facing the void, tearing down the establishment. He was a punk before punk existed.

*Although the punks didn’t have his oratorical skills and had to make up for it with loud guitars.  Not that I have problem with that.


Questions? Comments?  That’s what the comment box below is for. 

You can also tweet them to me with the hashtag #clyffordlove.

I’m too opinionated for the Clyfford Still Museum

…they’ve unfollowed me on Twitter.

You’d think that working in a museum dedicated to the most headstrong and difficult American artist ever would make them immune to such things. Apparently not. Either that, or they’ve groked that I don’t work in a museum and am not important or influential in the art world (yet; I have still to build my dark empire) , so I am not worth their attention.

Too Cool For You

Continue reading

My new favorite banner of all time

The canvas was his ally.

The paint and trowel were his weapons.

And the art world was his enemy.


Clyfford Still billboard

I never even knew I had a favorite banner, until now.

I got it from this tweet from the Clyfford Still Museum:

The canvas was his ally. The paint and trowel were his weapons. And the art world was his enemy.…

— ClyffordStillMuseum (@Still_Museum) February 28, 2012

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.

Continue reading

Art quote of the day: Flaming Life by Clyfford Still

Like Belmonte weaving the pattern of his being by twisting the powerful bulls around him, I seem to achieve a comparable ecstasy in bringing forth the flaming life through these large areas of canvas. And as the blues or reds or blacks leap and quiver in their tenuous ambience or rise in austere thrusts to carry their power infinitely beyond the bounds of the limiting field, I move with them and find a resurrection from the moribund oppressions that held me only hours ago. 

— Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still 1949 no. 1
Clyfford Still, 1949 No. 1 (PH-385), 1949

Sundays with Clyfford Still: One Painting At A Time (2)

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

The Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado will be hosting a series of talks by director Dean Sobel about each painting in their collection of over 800 works.   Read more about it at the Denver Post.

PH-343 by Clyfford Still

PH-343, by Clyfford Still, 1943. (Photo credit: Clyfford Still Museum)

Many of these paintings have never been seen before by the public – the museum itself only opened in November 2011.  This is an unprecedented opportunity to get to know these once-buried treasures of American art.

If you’re in Denver, don’t miss this.

Friday, March 2 at 2:30 pm at the Clyfford Still Museum.

Read more about upcoming programs from the Clyfford Still Museum.

I have emailed Dean Sobel to ask if there will be any video available of these talks, or at least transcripts.  He hasn’t gotten back to me yet, but I will let you know as soon as he responds.

Next week I will be investigating Clyfford’s origins in a tiny North Dakota town.  Stay tuned!

Comments?  Questions?  Let me know in the comment box below; you can also tweet them to me with the hashtag #clyffordlove.  Also, follow the Clyfford Still Museum on Twitter!

Sundays with Clyfford Still: Clyff’s writing analyzed (1)

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

This is post 1 of a series.  Click here to read them all.

All this week here at Exiled Star(dust) we’ve been doing handwriting analysis, and I am very pleased to be able to tell you that I’ve finally located a handwriting sample of Clyfford Still.  Now we can end the week with a bang.

Our sample is a letter written by Still to Jackson Pollock, and comes to us courtesy of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

Clyfford Still letter to Jackson Pollock page 1

Clyfford Still letter to Jackson Pollock page 1

Letter from Clyfford Still to Jackson Pollock, page 2

Letter from Clyfford Still to Jackson Pollock, page 2

The text of the letter reads:

October 29/53

Dear Jack

Went up to Janis’ gallery with Barney the other day and took the liberty of pushing into the office to see some of the paintings you did this summer.

What each work said, what its position, what each achieved, you must know.  But above all these details and intentions the great thing, to me, came through.

It was that here a man had been at work, at the profoundest work a man can do, facing up to what he is and aspires to.

(page 2)

I left the room with the gratitude and renewal of courage that always comes at such moments.  This is just my way of saying thanks, and the hope that some of my work has brought some of the same to you.

Clyff Still

48 Cooper Sq.


Analysis of the writing:

The first impression I get from the writing is of a keen, inquisitive mind.   The writing is very elongated in the upper and lower zones and the middle zone is shrunk almost to nothing.  Here’s a diagram of the zones as they are used in handwriting analysis:

Handwriting zones

The middle zone has to do with our social selves, and the people around us.  Still’s middle zone suggests he disliked socializing generally and would only do so if it were truly necessary.  He was not the kind of person who would join others just to avoid being alone, or tolerate idle chatter. He did not allow himself to be dictated to by other people.    A small middle zone also shows the ability to concentrate.  He could shut out others completely and focus entirely on his work.

Clyfford Still's lower loops show frustration

Lower loops showing frustration

The lower zone is longest.  It has to do with physical and material things, our bodies, sex, and the subconscious.   The long simplified loops show a strong interest here, but the loops either don’t close at all or close below the baseline, which shows  frustration or denial.  Also they’re turned in the opposite direction of the usual loop, which shows an independent approach to the subject.

The upper zone is nearly as long as the lower zone and is much much larger than the middle zone.   This zone has to do with the imagination, intellect and spirit.  Here we find long, closed loops which indicate both interest and fulfillment in these areas of life.

Clyfford Still's upper loops

Upper loops show imagination

Margins are even and narrow,  there are large spaces between words :  this was a man who would push into other people’s spaces if he felt the need, but required much space for himself.

The baseline is mostly even,  showing good self-control.

Clyfford Still's leading strokes

Letters begin with leading strokes



Long beginning strokes on some letters indicate procrastination.  Clyff could take a while to get started, but once going could keep it up for a long time.



Speed and flow are both very high, suggesting a quick thinker and eloquent communicator with a great deal of energy, both mental and physical.

Big loops on the t-bar stems show combativeness – ready for an argument or fight.  The big loop on the d shows a sensitivity to criticism.

The long, firm, energetic t-bar crossings show a strong will and assertiveness.

Clyfford Still's long T-bars

Long T-bars show confidence

Some of the t-bars sharpen towards the end, indicating a sharp tongue and a critical nature.  Others are heavy and tilted downward towards the right, which shows aggression.

Clyfford Still's aggressive T-bars

Aggressive T-bars


Clyff's go-to-hell K

Clyff's go-to-hell K


More combativeness is shown in the letter k, which is abnormally large compared to the other letters.  This is known as a “go-to-hell K” because it shows a fiery, defiant spirit.  This was a man who wouldn’t suffer fools gladly.  Nobody could tell him what to do and he wouldn’t back down from a fight.

Clyff’s signature is consistent with the rest of his writing and shows that he did not wear a social mask; what you saw with him was pretty much what you got.

Clyfford Still signature

Clyfford Still signature

As with the rest of his writing:  great speed, penetrating intellect,  strong personality and much confidence is shown here.


Every week we like to show you a new image of Still and/or his work.  Today’s featured work comes to us via sapiroart and still_museum on Twitter.

ph-960, 1960

Contemplating Clyff at the Still Museum: ph-960, 1960

Thanks for joining us.

Come back next week at 7am (GMT) for more Sundays with Clyfford Still.

If you enjoyed this piece, please let me know in the comments box below. If you have any interesting tidbits or images about Clyff that you’d like to see featured, post a link to them in the comments (or tweet them to me with the hashtag #clyffordlove)  and I’ll see what I can do.

Announcing Sundays with Clyfford Still

Everybody loves color field painter Clyfford Still.   As a new blog feature, every Sunday I will feature a different image from Still along with any snippets of information I may have gleaned during my wanderings on the web.

Clyfford Still at the Albright Knox museum, July 2010.

Clyfford Still at the Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY in July 2010.

Thanks to Cecilia Chang for the photo.

The Clyfford Still museum’s  website has this to say:

Described by many as the most anti-traditional of the Abstract Expressionists, Still is credited with laying the groundwork for the movement. Still’s shift from representational painting to abstraction occurred between 1938 and 1942, earlier than his colleagues, who continued to paint in figurative-surrealist styles well into the 1940s.