Friday, April 29, 2016

Be Still

 Be Still
Detail of walls I painted in 1986

When it comes to the work of Clyfford Still there’s a lot left to be said. He “dropped out” of the art world early in his career having achieved a high level of recognition and died with an estate that comprises more than 90% of his total output as an artist. The Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, the beneficiary of his estate has yet to even examine all of the more than 2400 works he left behind. I’ve recently returned from Denver and am still savoring the experience of visiting the museum, the only one I went to on this trip.

Painted walls, 1986

Let’s go inside the museum but first a slight detour back to 1985, (or was it 1986?). I wasn't looking directly at Clyfford Still’s work but that was my inspiration for painted walls in the office of clients for whom I’d already painted most every wall in their house. I recall they were very surprised with the results. I tried to describe beforehand what I was going to do but there was no sample painting and so seeing what I had in mind executed full scale was dramatic. They approved and were delighted. The walls were covered with canvas per my request and I applied a malachite palette in liquid strokes. The results are akin to Still though his application of paint is by contrast quite dry. I’ve not done anything quite like it before or since. 

Meanwhile Clyfford Still spent a lifetime investigating variations on jagged vertical abstract forms. Now that the bulk of his work is under one roof and available to scholars and the rest of us his paintings and creations will not doubt be parsed, analyzed, and evaluated like never before. The museum also includes his working materials, correspondence, personal library, and other effects which all offer clues to the mind of an artist. Together the collection and building create something absolutely brilliant and astounding that gives us an insight into a virtuoso, painter, and inventor.

An early Still that hints at later developments.

One of a number of small scale studies preceding the large canvas works.

Clyfford Still's mature style.

The works are thoughtfully hung on raw concrete, stark white, and high keyed colored walls.

The interiors volumes are beautifully proportioned and connect in delightful and surprising ways.

The architect, Brad Cloepfil, with Allied Works has an excellent website that shows their mood board of images, material tests, sketches, false starts, and digital animations that lead to the final design for the Still Museum.  There are other museums devoted solely to one artist but I doubt none that so successfully present the development and maturity of a singular vision. They’ve even thought to include a glimpse behind the scenes including views of some of the many works in storage as well as a working scanning lab where a technician can be seen digitizing a Still canvas. Fascinating.

Above: a selection of Stills hand ground pigment.
Below: a technician photographs a Still canvas and the artist himself.

The main staircase and one of the open air porches off the second floor. Minimal modernist architecture at it's very best.

The entrance.

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