Christie's /May 13, 2008
€5,170,296.65 - €7,755,444.97
Find artworks, auction results, sale prices and pictures of Clyfford Still at auctions worldwide.Go to the complete price list of works
Artworks in Arcadja20
Some works of Clyfford StillExtracted between 20 works in the catalog of Arcadja
Auction: Christie's -May 15, 2013 - New YorkLot number: 21
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Lot Description Clyfford Still (1904-1980) PH-1 signed and dated 'Clyfford 53' (lower left); signed again, dated again and inscribed 'Clyfford 1953 S.F.' (on the reverse) oil on canvas 79 x 68½ in. (200.7 x 174 cm.) Painted in 1953. Provenance Jeffrey H. Loria, 1980 Acquired from the above by the present owner Pre-Lot Text PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION Exhibited New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Clyfford Still, November 1979-February 1980, p. 97, no. 26 (illustrated in color). View Lot Notes > The Spirit and Space by David Anfam Adjunct Curator, Clyfford Still Museum, Denver. The idea that pictorial abstraction might flow out of realism contradicts much twentieth-century modernist orthodoxy. Whether it be Piet Mondrian's grids, Kazimir Malevich's iconic Black Square, or Barnett Newman's chromatic fields, modernism tended to stress negation, purification and formal autonomy. As Newman argued in his polemical essay, 'The Sublime is Now,'1948, "We are freeing ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth, or what have you, that have been the devices of Western European painting." By comparison, Clyfford Still's abstract paintings resonate with echoes from their representational forebears. It is this legacy that lends his mature canvases, such as PH-1 (the designation indicates it was the first canvas to enter the photographic inventory of his corpus), their singular electricity. Before the Clyfford Still Museum opened in Denver in 2011, the artist was sometimes stereotyped as a "one-image" man, partly due to his distinctive style and also largely because only a fraction of his output--approximately five per cent--was known to the public. Now, the magnitude of Still's achievement is emerging, as the 2,400 or so works in Denver reveal one of the most original figures associated with Abstract Expressionism and arguably its most multifaceted in terms of his range of media, subjects and visual effects. From more than 800 paintings starting in 1920 to oils and watercolors on paper, graphite, charcoal and pen and ink drawings, lithographs, etchings, a silkscreen print, sculptures and photographs, Still left few technical options untouched (except for acrylics). Likewise, his means ranged from small pastels to enormous painterly panoramas, from surfaces laden with brute impasto to stark gulfs of bare canvas enlivened by the merest pigment touches, and from abyssal images to others of airy lyricism. Throughout, academic discipline contends with raw, unleashed invention. In particular, Still proved a precocious, deft draftsman--unlike several otherwise notable Abstract Expressionists--producing an exceptional cache of representational work. His fledgling subjects encompassed landscapes and city scenes, figure and anatomical studies, portraits, interiors, animals, anecdotal sketches, still life, machinery, agricultural and industrial sites and then imaginative compositions with existential or symbolic overtones. From this rich medley Still evolved the protean character of his subsequent abstract idiom-which was breathtakingly iconoclastic yet propelled, as it were, by a dynamo forged in figuration. Still himself summarized the alpha and omega of his trajectory thus: "The figure stands behind it all. It is like stripping down Rembrandt or Velázquez to see what an eye can do by itself, or an arm or a hand--and then going beyond to see what just the idea of an eye or an arm or a head might be. But by then it's something else, of course, a whole new world, for which there are no words." PH-1 stands squarely in this new territory. Although its silent, implacable aura daunts exegesis, it remains possible to trace some of the currents that shaped it. Firstly, Still always evinced an acute sensitivity towards color in nature and culture. Pastels and other annotated graphics from the early 1930s confirm his meticulous eye for the hues of the foliage on the Alberta prairies. His diary notes translated this acuity into eloquent recollections of "clear cold winter days with jewelled light. Spring and its melting breaking black and white and brown." Subsequently, his renderings of the Indian tribes on the Reservations near Nespelem in northern Washington state recorded the vibrant tones-purple, crimson, yellow and leaf green-of the natives' clothing and accoutrements. In a sometimes deadened daily existence, color stood for life. Moreover, Still's early paintings of Alberta distinguished themselves from humdrum reportage by their innovative chromatic sensibility. Is it fanciful to discern in the palette of, say, PH-443 a presentiment, albeit faint and rudimentary, of the extraordinary color sense manifest in PH-1? Not if one recalls Still's capacity for making his works speak to each other across the decades (in 1968 he drew pastels recording memories of the Canadian landscapes from forty years past). Whence, otherwise, stem these mordant chords of deep damson purple, contrasted with sunny ochers and flashes of white on high? They are memories of nature, man, seasons and things so transfigured as to no longer recognize themselves in this "new world" of abstract forces. What had been a lowering storm and brooding emptiness in PH-443 and comparable pictures, now became a materialization of elemental energies, opaque yet startlingly immediate. Secondly, Still's vision had long fastened on dualities: male/female, vertical/horizontal, light/darkness, idea/act, the original and the image. Perhaps the only mentor whom the irascible artist ever kept in high regard was Murray Bundy. Professor Bundy taught Still Literary Criticism-covering such thinkers as Plato, Longinus and Benedetto Croce-while he studied for an M.A. at Washington State College in the mid-1930s (almost half a century later the artist invited his former teacher to the opening of his retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1979). When Bundy quoted Plato in his 1927 book The Theory of Imagination in Classical and Medieval Thought, the words were almost a germ from which Still's fascination with doubling effects later grew: "And other products of human creation are also twofold and go in pairs; there is the thing with which the art of making the thing is concerned, and the image, with which imitation is concerned." When scrutinized, Still's pictorial universe is seen to be populated with pairings and kindred repetitions, even down to his propensity for making several versions or replicas of the same composition, often turning drawing into painting and vice-versa. During the 1940s, Still left behind the innocent philosophical underpinning to such dualisms, instead stressing their diabolical aspect-the double or doppelgänger is an age-old embodiment of threat and the uncanny. By the time of PH-794, the tall pyramidal presences resemble ominous twins, different incarnations of a single upward rearing impulse. A year before, in the landmark PH-235 the twofold aspect took another guise: namely, in the twin lightning-like bolts, respectively white and acid yellow, that splinter the tarry darkness from above. If the viewer of PH-1 supposes nothing remains there of these old traits, he/she should look again. Notice in PH-1 the insistent verticality: the draftsmanship teases contours upwards, in opposition to the nocturnal inertia of the coagulated light-absorbent blackness. This is the Manichaean drama of PH-235 distilled to the hilt, including the two razor-sharp white fissures at the upper left of center. These galvanize the ambient gloom, slicing it apart. To their left hover a second couple of blank white presences, compacted ghosts of the kind of effaced sentinels found in PH-794. The latter's high notes--cadmium red at lower left, the blue-green patches illuminating the "halos" atop the two totems and the light yellow splinters outlining their right sides--also rehearse the far more sophisticated chromatic structure of PH-1. The schematic arrangements in the mid-1940s fuse here into a dense whole. Whatever extends beyond the canvas edges only further pressures what remains within it. No wonder Still mentioned "an implosion of infinities" in his canvases, adding that he used "texture to kill a color, color to kill space." In this respect, PH-1 may again delve into Still's past for its new formulations. The subject of Still's M.A. thesis was Paul Cézanne, whose intensive technique he caught in a telling description: "Feeling his way around the forms, plane by plane, he was compelled to crowd many segments into a unified whole." The same applies to the otherwise utterly remote pictorial cartography of PH-1. Its disparate areas--by turns tiny and monolithic, glowing and charred--are dovetailed into a continuum like the jagged parts of some visionary completed jigsaw puzzle. The overall fierce intensity is as hard to put into words as it is palpable to eyesight. With conventional space "killed", a mysterious luminosity, instigated by the maximum saturation of each color, inhabits the paradoxically charged emptiness. This is the kind of numbed exhilaration associated with limit-situations--as when one gazes into a measureless depth or tries to fathom the night sky--pantheistic encounters of a kind that the young Still experienced on the prairies. Indeed, PH-1's interplay of glaring vitality and black nothingness is, if anything, otherworldly-nature altogether reconfigured through the mind's eye, rather as William Wordsworth (whose poetry Still knew from early on) meant it when he famously invoked "The light that never was, on sea or land." Like Wordsworth, Still's ultimate concern was with the sublime, a phenomenon of individual exaltation that, while rooted in material facts, goes beyond them. PH-1 seeks to induce such an inward dimension in the spectator, reflecting the artist's goal: "I never wanted color to be color. I never wanted texture to be texture, or images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit." Or, as another poet closer to Still's time and place, Wallace Stevens, more plainly concluded in "The American Sublime," 1935: And the sublime comes down To the spirit itself, The spirit and space, The empty spirit In vacant space. (c) Art Ex Ltd 2013
Auction: Christie's -Nov 14, 2012 - New YorkLot number: 22
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Lot Description Clyfford Still (1904-1980) PH-915 (No. 1, 1946) signed and dated 'Clyfford Still 1947' (on the reverse) oil on canvas 71 x 45 in. (180.3 x 114.3 cm.) Painted in 1946-1947. Provenance Alfonso Ossorio, New York, acquired directly from the artist Robert Elkon, New York, circa 1965 Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1970 Saleroom Notice Please note that this work is signed and dated on the reverse and that the correct date for this is 1946-1947. Pre-Lot Text Property from a Distinguished American Collection Literature C. Ratcliff, "New York Letter," Art International, December 1977, p. 267. R. Smith, "Combustible Paintings of a Brooding Legend," New York Times, 15 November, 1990. Exhibited San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Clyfford Still Exhibition, July-August 1947. New York, Robert Elkon Gallery, Six American Painters, October-December 1977 (illustrated in color). Ithaca, Cornell University, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art; Tokyo, Seibu Museum of Art and New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Abstract Expressionism: The Formative Years, March-December 1978. New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Clyfford Still: Dark Hues/Close Values, October-November 1990 (illustrated in color). Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Clyfford Still: Paintings 1944-1960, June-September 2001, no. 4 (illustrated in color). View Lot Notes › PH-915: A Matter of Life and Death by David Anfam, Adjunct Curator, Clyfford Still Museum, Denver. For Clyfford Still, 1946 was an annus mirabilis. In that year alone, he painted thirty six canvases--a remarkable tally reflecting the goal of his progress during the Second World War into radical abstraction. In a similar vein, Still opened his first New York solo show at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery on February 12th, 1946. The impact was palpable and immediate, captured in Robert Motherwell's recollection: "I had never heard of Still until he had his first show at Peggy's. his was the show, of all those early shows of ours, that was the most original. A bolt out of the blue." By fall 1946 Still had begun teaching at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, a sojourn that would virtually call into existence a whole new medley of "West Coast abstract expressionism." The painting now known as PH-915 (Still indentified his works by such alphanumerical "titles," which correspond to numbering in his documentation books) dates originally from this momentous year. In a possible nod to its primacy within his work flow then, Still even once identified this canvas as "1946-No.1". By any reckoning, it is a signal achievement. Many complex themes and traits coalesce in PH-915--to the extent that it represents both a summation, in microcosm, of Still's past and a window onto his future. Perhaps the most pervasive aspect is the colorism. The conception essentially pivots upon earth-toned pigments. Still explored these across various registers of lightness and darkness-ranging from yellow ocher (at lower left of center and near the upper right corner), through raw and burnt sienna (upper left corner and surrounding the uppermost reds), to umbers (the mingled shades of the predominant dark field). At the respective limits of this scale stand white and black: each rise sparingly from the base of the image. Small complementary glints enliven the chiaroscuro, including the aforementioned red and a blue-green, scattered around the black. The overall effect projects earthiness as a kind of somber primal continuum--what the German language neatly terms an Urgrund, "ur" meaning "original," and "grund," ground--shot through with vivid incidents, galvanic traces of otherness in a dark netherworld. If PH-915, then, suggests a kind of pictorial song of the earth, its pedigree is lengthy. Still's literal involvement with the earth stretched back more than a quarter of a century from the time of this painting. Farming the prairies of southern Alberta, Canada, from the early years of the twentieth century onwards, Still and his homesteading family became directly aware of the centrality of the land to human existence. On the one hand, it yielded the staff of life in the form of crops. On the other hand, when the harvest failed, it imperilled everything. Farming wheat until his arms were "bloody to the elbow," Still experienced both sides of this agrarian coin. The expansiveness of Still's early landscapes, with their low horizons and overarching skies, attests to his love of the spaces of the West, what he lauded as "the awful bigness, the drama of the land." By contrast, the horrific distortions of his youthful depictions of farm laborers from 1934 onwards (when he turned away from landscape per se to treat the figure), reveal another angle. In short, the fact that "the thin top soil" was less than the best and that it declined catastrophically after a series of drought years began in 1917, until the Great Depression took its fateful toll. Consequently, the Canadian Prairie Provinces became a wasted dust bowl perhaps even more bereft of hope than their North American counterparts (not least because the former's ground was broken much later than it was in the United States and hence regressed more rapidly). When Mark Rothko quoted Still in the introductory text that prefaced his Art of This Century show to the effect that his art was "of the Earth, the Damned, and of the Recreated," the cryptic phrasing thus masked both harsh personal truths and hinted at how the artist had transformed them, almost by expressive thaumaturgy, into the creative growth and renewal that his works embodied. No wonder Still would soon declare that "through them [the paintings] I breathe again." PH-915 gives ample evidence of "the Earth" not just in its choice of colors but also in its physical makeup-trowelled as its surface is by the strokes of the palette knife, as though the pigment (which Still often mixed from dry powder paints resulting in granular textures) were a metaphorical field to be plumbed and plowed by the painter's hand. Indeed, the close-knit chromatic gamut and symbolic overtones of PH-915 and related works, such as PH-384 which intimately shares its palette and organization, were almost uncannily foretold by a canvas executed more than two decades before. Namely, in PH-45, 1925, Still had depicted a pile of stones against a dark earthy background, the rocks' various colors ranging from pale umber to rich reddish tints and set off by small creeping intrusions of green foliage. To a hardscrabble farmer in the back of beyond these "field rocks," as this early canvas is inscribed, could spell professional death--compare, at a linguistic level, the gist of the commonplace phrase "stone dead"--and Still had even photographed an ominous mound of them heaped by the side of one of his family's fields. Between 1921 and 1946, though, Still shattered pedestrian representation to lay bare its abstract geological crux on his canvases. If the dark, grim and writhing aspect of PH-915 echoes with distant memories of "the Earth" and "the Damned," what about "the Recreated"? A clue to this final element of Still's triadic vision exists in the composition's verticality. In a nutshell, Still equated the vertical with life asserting itself against the emptiness of the prairies, a vital vector in a directionless wilderness. As he put it, "But mostly the [Alberta period] paintings were records of air and light. Yet always and inevitably with the rising forms of the vertical necessity of life dominating the horizon. And so was born and became intrinsic this elemental characteristic of my life and work." True to this ethos, PH-915's format is almost twice as high as it is wide. In turn, its flame-like configurations may cast a nod towards Vincent van Gogh's soaring landscapes, which Still--who gave a searching talk to his CSFA students on Antonin Artaud's essay, "Van Gogh, The Man Suicided by Society" (1947)--surely knew. Yet in this instance Still paid unusual attention to his treatment of the vertical components. That Still regarded PH-915 as an important statement was confirmed by his inclusion of it in his July 1947 exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. An installation photograph reveals that the bright white/beige/light brown triangular motif springing from the lower edge leftward of center ran higher up the canvas than it does now, while the corresponding wedge on the right may have been somewhat lighter/larger and there was also a small bright flash descending from the upper edge that is no longer visible. Originally, then, PH-915's design would have been slightly nearer to that of PH-384 in which the dualistic infrastructure involving two ragged uprights, here rising through the entire height of the canvas, is more manifest. Precisely when Still reworked these areas is unknown. However, insofar as they render the overall image more tenebrous and reduce the vertical upthrust, it is reasonable to speculate that they stem from the late 1940s--because this was the moment when Still pushed his imagery towards engulfing fields in which living traces are submerged within a nocturnal pall of encrusted pigment. Justifiably, Still designated this drive towards extremes--second to none within the annals of abstract expressionism-as a quest for "new hypotheses in experience or sensibility explosive forces." With a highly intricate mosaic of matte and glossy surfaces--by turns catching the light or extinguishing it--PH-915 indeed ushers in the "explosive forces" that Still's art increasingly orchestrated as the key decade of the 1940s drew to a close. Its spatiality almost defies description because it seems at once acutely layered (and actually is), thus implying depth, whereas the urgency of its raw and shredded "skin" forecloses any illusionistic recession, instead compelling the beholder to confront the evidence immediately given to his or her eyes. This paradox epitomizes Still's supreme challenge to the orthodoxy of cubism's shallow spaces. As such, we have only to compare PH-915 to Jamais from two years before to gauge how rapidly Still had travelled in a short time. In Jamais the vertical still prevails, as do the allusions to nature in the golden corn stalks and iconic solar disc. But the black spectre of Jamais stands as a figure against a background, whereas in PH-915 these diverse mimetic vestiges, rooted in the past, have fused alike into a formidable new totality--a unique abstract universe that Still memorably described as "life and death merging in fearful union."
Auction: Christie's -May 8, 2012 - New YorkLot number: 25
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Lot Description Clyfford Still (1904-1980) Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R) signed and dated 'Clyfford 1955-R' (lower right); signed again, inscribed and dated again twice '1955 Easthampton PH-786 Clyfford 1955-R' (on the reverse) oil on canvas 91 x 69 in. (231.1 x 175.3 cm.) Painted in 1955. Provenance Collection of the artist Private colection, by descent Diane Upright Fine Arts, New York Acquired from the above by the present owner Pre-Lot Text Property from the Estate of David Pincus Exhibited Philadelphia Museum of Art (on extended loan). View Lot Notes › "These are not paintings in the usual sense; they are life and death merging in fearful union. As for me, they kindle a fire; through them I breathe again, hold a golden cord, find my own revelation"-Clyfford Still Jagged forms like pale fire flicker upwards on the surface of Clyfford Still's 1955 painting, Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R). One of the rare paintings that went into private hands, rather than the institutions including the Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, which hold the vast majority of his works, Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R) reveals the spare, terse and elegantly eloquent aesthetic that Still developed and which had already become such an important springboard for so many of the Abstract Expressionists, who were enjoying their mighty primacy at this point in his career. Still was one of the most influential artists of the 1940s onwards; he was the pioneer of the large-scale abstract, originally working in near-seclusion on the West Coast where he taught, far from the cut and thrust of New York, which is often considered the great cradle of Action Painting and indeed the hotbed of the movement, the home of 'The Club' and the Cedar Tavern which were the focal points during that period. In many ways it was his sometime friend Mark Rothko who brought Still, and his influence, to New York, having discovered his work while teaching in California, where the artists met and struck up a friendship. For a long time, Rothko would even hang a Still in his bedroom to serve as a guiding light. A range of artists would subsequently come to cite Still as a major, direct influence, many of them his students. Within this number are figures as diverse as Sam Francis, Allan Kaprow and Richard Serra, whose weighty, precarious masses of standing metal can be seen as three-dimensional responses to the might of Still's own painting, with its emphasis on the upright. That Still worked largely outside New York - he lived there only for a dozen years of his life - reveals the idiosyncrasy and individualism of this almost mythic character. Still was incredibly headstrong, perhaps revealing the inheritance of his pioneer parents, who had moved to North Dakota from Canada and then had set up a ranch near Bow Island, in Alberta. It was there that Still spent much of his early life; indeed, up until the mid-1930s, in conjunction with his art and his teaching, Still would head to Alberta to help out with farm work each year, especially when agriculture was suffering against the backdrop of the Depression. Alberta's emphatically horizontal landscape, with its wide open prairies and vast skies, would inform the sense of space that fills pictures such as Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R). At the same time, his first-hand experiences of the hardships of life in Alberta would provide the foundation for his focus on the vertical forms that dart up this picture. For Still, condensing the essence of life itself into his canvases, verticality meant survival in the harsh, unforgiving Canadian prairies: "For in such a land a man must stand upright, if he would live. Even if he is the only upright form in the world about him" (C. Still, quoted in T. Kellein, 'Approaching the Art of Clyfford Still', pp. 9-19, Kellein (ed.), Clyfford Still 1904-1980, Buffalo, 1992, p. 14). On another occasion, he explained, "when there were snowstorms, you either stood up and lived or laid down and died" (C. Still, quoted in J.E.B. Breslin, Mark Rothko: A Biography, Chicago & London, 1993, p. 224). A couple of decades earlier, Piet Mondrian had distilled the Dutch landscape down to its bare essence of a horizon punctuated by the vertical forms of trees, buildings and people, eventually resulting in his grids. Still has taken that same focus on the vertical as a sign of life and used it as the basis for his searing abstract expressions of humanity. While the horizon has long had associations with the epic, with the Romantic, with the precedent of, say, Caspar David Friedrich, it was Still's use of the upright form as a counterpoint to the surrender of lying down and adopting a horizontal position that marked out his works. In Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R), the vertical shards of colour recall the mountains, icebergs and figures that themselves added such a dynamic and empathic dimension to Friedrich's pictures, pulling in the viewer. Still used these devices to evoke the spirit of humanity, of life. This was a universal, timeless, ancient theme that survived beyond the hurly burly of the Twentieth Century, an age of technological advance and earth-shattering conflicts on a hitherto unimaginable scale. Against that backdrop, paintings such as Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R) appear all the more pertinent: they are visions of hope, timely yet timeless, lyrical expressions of survival against the odds in a modern age in which science and machines had managed to cause so much wanton destruction. The light flames of Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R) speak of an energy that underpins our world. "I'm not interested in illustrating my time," Still protested. "A man's 'time' limits him, it does not truly liberate him. Our age - it is of science - of mechanism - of power and death. I see no virtue in adding to its mammoth arrogance the compliment of graphic homage" (C. Still, quoted in J.T. Demetrion, 'Introduction' in J. Demetrion (ed.), Clyfford Still: Paintings 1944-1960, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., 2001, p. 11). Taking those words into consideration, Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R) can be seen as a riposte to mechanism and science alike. In Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R), Still's credentials as an Action Painter appear clear to see in the rigorous, vigorous means with which the color has been applied. Indeed, the contrast between the paint and the background, which appears almost in elegant, restrained reserve, heightens the sense of the substantiality of the paint itself, emphasising Still's brushwork and apparently invoking that Modernist obsession: the individual mark. However for Still, in part because of the origins of those marks as defiant beacons of the human power to endure, the shards of color were intended to transcend their own substantiality. " I never wanted color to be pure color," he explained. "I never wanted texture to be texture, or images to become shapesI wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit" (C. Still, quoted in K. Kuh, 'Clyfford Still' in J.P. O'Neill (ed.), Clyfford Still, exh. cat., New York, 1979, p. 11). Still's restraint in keeping much of the canvas bare emphasizes the streaks of color, reflecting an increasing tendency in his work towards spareness. While this was only a feature that appeared on occasion, it is noteworthy that it did so with increasing emphasis during the course of the 1950s. While already in the 1940s, he had created light backgrounds, using white paint or similar colours in a way that recalls the full surfaces of his contemporary Franz Kline's pictures, increasingly during the following decade he allowed the background itself to serve as a field in its own right, in a technique visible in Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R) as well as in examples in the Allbright-Knox Museum which was gifted such an important grouping of his pictures by the artist himself. This sparseness appears to emphasise the rugged, tenacious grip on life and its essence in Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R). The paint becomes all the more eloquent, a result of the struggle to come into existence, or indeed the struggle for Still to condense his own experiences, his own feelings, his own individuality upon the canvas. The various forms that hang like stalactites within the composition of this picture convey the sense that they, like the crops decades earlier in Alberta, have been harvested through incredible application. Still has shown his own single-minded determination in creating this vision, which manages to evoke such a strong sense of the artist's own efforts, resulting in a painting that is a proof of life, an existential declaration in colour, a rhythmic explosion of forms. As he himself explained, "When I expose a painting I would have to say, 'Here I am: this is my presence, my feelings, myself'" (C. Still, quoted in K. Kuh, 'Clyfford Still' in J.P. O'Neill (ed.), Clyfford Still, exh.cat., New York, 1979, p. 10). The historical origins of Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R) provide an intriguing insight into the artist who is often considered to be the founding father of the Action Painters. The composition in fact echoes very closely that of another significantly smaller picture, listed in 2001 as being in the Onnasch collection in Germany. The similarities between these works reveal the incredible control and consideration that were involved in Still's compositions. What appear to be chance-driven flecks of paint reverberate once again in the larger Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R), revealing how small a role hazard had to play in his pictures, in stark contrast to, say, the dripping of his contemporary Jackson Pollock. The similar earlier work has traditionally been dated to 1953; however, it may have been painted in East Hampton, where Still stayed with his friend and fellow artist Alfonso Ossorio in the Summer of 1955 and again the following year. Certainly, Still appears to have considered presenting the earlier picture as a gift to his daughter; however, his usual reluctance to release his works, even to a family member, meant that he created another version, this time on a larger scale. It is for this reason that the work has the R in its title: this was one of Still's annotations earmarking a replica, as discussed in Neal Benezra's essay on the subject for the 2001 exhibition at the Hirshhorn where the Onnasch picture was shown. In the catalogue, Benezra explained that, despite their name and the similarities between the works, the so-called 'replicas' were very much considered to be individual works in their own right by Still himself. Indeed, they were further explorations of a success. In the case of Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R), the original work has been granted an apotheosis, recreated on a far larger scale, amplifying its impact. Still himself would discuss this aspect of his practice, explaining: "Making additional versions is an act I consider necessary when I believe the importance of the idea or breakthrough merits survival on more than one stretch of canvas, especially when it is entrusted to the precarious world of exhibitions or collecting. Although the few replicas I make are usually close to or extensions of the original, each has its special and particular life and is not intended to be just a copy" (C. Still, quoted in N. Benezra, 'Clyfford Still's Replicas', pp. 87-98, J.T. Demetrion (ed.), Clyfford Still: Paintings 1944-1960, exh.cat., Washington, D.C., 2001, pp. 88-89).
Auction: Christie's -May 13, 2008 - New YorkLot number: 28
Other WORKS AT AUCTION
Clyfford Still (1904-1980) 1946 (PH-182) signed, inscribed, titled and dated 'Clyfford 1946-S. F. P-182' (onthe reverse) oil on canvas 60½ x 43¾ in. (153.7 x 111.1 cm.) Painted in 1946. Provenance The artist Private collection Diane Upright Fine Arts, LLC Lot Notes Clyfford Still is a lone and legendary figure in the history ofAmerican painting. A pioneer and leader of the New York School,without ever really being a part of it, he was the first of theAbstract Expressionist generation to make paintings on an heroicscale with no discernible subject matter and the author of a uniqueand epic body of work that ultimately transcends the time and theplace in which it was made. Painted in San Francisco in the autumnof 1946, this untitled work, numbered 1946 (PH-182) inaccordance with the way in which the artist photographed andcatalogued his oeuvre , is a bold and powerful work belongingto the first years of his artistic maturity. Rooted in the vast scale and space of the American landscape anddrawing on the mystical fire of the human spirit, these essentiallyabstract paintings invoke the primal nature of the art and act ofpainting as a kind of metaphorical embodiment of human condition.They are "not paintings in the usual sense" Still once boldlyclaimed of them, "they are life and death merging in fearfulunion." (C. Still, quoted in Clyfford Still Paintings1944-60 , exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C., 2001, p.17). Epic in both the scale of their ambition and in the nature andstyle of their execution, the paintings of Still's maturity (from1944 onwards) stand beyond any specific time or place and attemptonly to assert the vital living nature of what they are. "I neverwanted color to be pure color" he said of the these works, "I neverwanted texture to be texture, or images to become shapes. I wantedthem all to fuse into a living spirit" (C. Still, quoted in Clyfford Still , exh. cat., New York, 1979, p. 11). Thepurpose of his art was ultimately aimed at nothing less than theuplifting, or even liberation, of man's inner being or soul fromthe limitations of the modern age. "I want the spectator to bereassured that something he values within himself has been touchedand found a kind of correspondence. That being alive...is worth thelabor," he said ( Clyfford Still Paintings 1944-60 , p. 42).Towards this end, Still deliberately avoided any invocation in hiswork of what he saw as the traumatic era -- riven by war and tornapart by science and technology -- in which he lived. "I'm notinterested in illustrating my time" he said. "A man's 'time' limitshim, it does not truly liberate him. Our age...is of science-- of mechanism -- of power and death. I see no virtue in adding toits mammoth arrogance the compliment of graphic homage"( ibid ). Primal and elemental, Still's paintings are holistic entities that,using solely abstract form, color and painterly texture, laid onthickly with a palette knife into riveting fiery dancing patternsof seemingly animate matter, invoke a deep and often moving senseof the vertical presence of human life or the human spirit,isolated within a vast and seemingly infinite space. It is in thisrespect that Still's work anticipates and informs both the "zips"of Barnett Newman and the epic horizontal fields of color laterevolved by his friend Mark Rothko. This painting, 1946 (PH-182) , derives from the periodimmediately after Still's first great solo exhibition at PeggyGuggenheim's Art of this Century Gallery in February 1946 that hadmarked the first showing of Still's mature style. In theintroduction to this exhibition Still's then friend Mark Rothkorelated Still's new art to the epic and transcendent dimension of"Myth." and explained how Still, "working out West, and alone,"had, with "unprecedented forms and completely personal methods,"arrived at a completely new way of painting. The simple, seeminglyorganic forms of Still's painting and its bold expansive fields ofspace and color made, "the rest of us look academic" JacksonPollock observed at the time. For Rothko, the new vision offered byStills apparently completely abstract paintings, not only took thelead amongst this generation of artists, but invoked a fundamentalhuman truth, one that expressed "the tragic-religious drama ...generic to all Myths at all times," and created "new counterpartsto replace the old mythological hybrids" which had lost theirpertinence in the intervening centuries. "For me," Rothko wrote inhis introduction and echoing Still's own later insistence that hispaintings "merged" life and death, "Still's pictorial dramas are anextension of the Greek Persephone Myth. As he himself has expressedit, his paintings are, 'of the Earth, the Damned, and of theRecreated.' Every shape becomes an organic entity, inviting themultiplicity of associations inherent in all living things. To methey form a theogony of the most elementary consciousness, hardlyaware of itself beyond the will to live -- a profound and movingexperience" (M. Rothko, "Introduction to First ExhibitionPaintings: Clyfford Still," 1946, reproduced in M. Lspez-Remiro,ed., Mark Rothko: Writings on Art , New Haven, 2006, p.48). Rothko's equating of the fused form and content of Still's fierypaintings with the grandiose notion of timeless "Myth" clearlyreflects much of his own thinking at this time, but it also drawson a common understanding of the term "Myth" that was shared byalmost all the Abstract Expressionist generation. As David Anfamhas pointed out, "terms like 'myth,' 'magic,' 'totemism,' 'theprimitive,' 'culture/nature' and 'spirit'" epitomized for thesepainters the cultural philosophy begun by Frazer's GoldenBough or Jesse Weston's From Ritual to Romance , whichhad in turn informed such epic literary odysseys as Eliot's TheWasteland and Joyce's Ulysses . It was on this sameuniversal and elemental level of experience that this generation ofAmerican artists wished to operate, and it was Still's paintings ofthe mid-1940s that first seemed to open the door to thispossibility. As a work such as 1946 (PH-182) demonstrates, it was thecomplete and startling interdependence of apparently abstract form,pure color and material texture that Still attained in his newfreeform paintings that was primarily responsible for the openingup of the medium to a completely new direction. The jagged,flame-like forms that Still layered onto his canvases with theknife in both their shape and their texture while in no wayfigurative or illustrative nevertheless still suggest cracks andfissures in an earthy or rock surface in a way that roots his workin an age-old sense of the organic. The space in Still's paintings,as has often been pointed out, also seems to invoke the awesomescale of the American landscape, its tradition in American art, andthe Romantics invocation of the sublime. Allied to this, the strongverticality of Still's flame-like forms, two of which, standinglike totems or pine trees, dark bolts of lightning or Van Gogh'sflaming cypresses at the right hand side of this painting, seem toestablish a vital and erect animate presence. As it would be forBarnett Newman, the fierce verticality of these forms invoked forStill a deep sense of the human spirit and the essential vitalityof the will to live. They were what he once described as the"categorical imperatives" of his canvases and were also rooted inStill's experience of nature and the landscape. Still had grown upon the prairie in one of the last North American frontiers, inAlberta, Canada, where, he observed, "when there were snowstorms,you either stood up and lived or laid down and died...in such aland a man must stand upright, if he would survive. Even if he isthe only upright form in the world about him" (C. Still, quoted inJ. Breslin, Mark Rothko: A Biography , Chicago, 1993, p. 224and Clifford Still , exh. cat., Buffalo, 1993, p. 14). Thisvital existential characteristic of uprightness permeates all ofStill's vertical forms. In the late 1930s Still too had spent his summers paintingportraits and landscapes depicting the Colville Native AmericanIndian Reservation where he had helped to found the Nespelem ArtColony. Witnessing the Native Americans' ancient and mysticalrelationship with the land undoubtedly proved another importantexperience for Still which also helped to steep his art in a senseof landscape and to ground it in Nature. Despite Still's laterinsistence that "the fact that I grew up on the prairies hasnothing to do with my paintings, with what people think they findin them" because ultimately "I paint myself, not nature," Still'sown self-image of his art and his life was that of an elemental andsolitary journey through the landscape of nature. Indeed, hedescribed the evolution of his mature style of painting in themid-1940s and the freedom it ultimately gave him, "as a journeythat one must make, walking straight and alone. No respite orshort-cuts were permitted. And one's will had to hold against everychallenge of triumph, or failure, or the praise of Vanity Fair.Until one had crossed the darkened and wasted valleys and come atlast into clear air and could stand on a high and limitless plain.Imagination, no longer fettered by the laws of fear, became as onewith Vision. And the Act, intrinsic and absolute, was its meaning,and the bearer of its passion" (C. Still, Paintings by ClyffordStill , exh. cat., Buffalo, 1959, n.p.). For Still, as for many of the Abstract Expressionists, hispaintings were a reflection, an expression and a manifestation inultimate terms of the human condition whereby the manner ofexecution, the almost ritualized acts of making them were as much apart of the work as any resultant form or iconography. The makingof the painting was itself romanticized into an almost mysticaljourney through the apparent void of existence, a journey that inthe end provided and revealed its own meaning. It was in this waythat Still could equate his work with timelessness and theelemental, at his best, creating extraordinarily powerful paintingswhose non-objective forms seem to speak like archetypes from adistant past and seemingly as much in common with ancient rock artor the cave paintings of Lascaux as with any art produced in the20th Century.
Auction: Christie's -Nov 15, 2006 - New YorkLot number: 44
Other WORKS AT AUCTION
Clyfford Still (1904-1980) 1947-R-No. 1 dated '1947' (on the reverse) oil on canvas 69 x 65 in. (175.3 x 165.1 cm.) Provenance Alfonso Ossorio, East Hampton Robert Elkon Gallery, New York Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1971 Exhibited San Francisco, Palace of the Legion of Honor, 4th Annual Exhibition of American Painting, November 1950-January 1951, n.p. (illustrated). Beverly Hills, Frank Perls Gallery, Seventeen Modern American Painters, January-February, 1951. New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 15 Americans, April-July 1952, p. 22 (illustrated). New York, Robert Elkon Gallery, Robert Elkon--Two Decades, September-November 1981, p. 15 (illustrated in color). Lot Notes "Still makes the rest of us look academic" - Jackson Pollock 1947-R-No. 1 is a masterful Clyfford Still painting from a prime period in the artist's production, and one whose history is entwined with Alfonso Ossorio, one of the most influential collectors and patrons of Abstract Expressionism. The painting was acquired by Ossorio in the 1950's and remained in his collection until it was de-accessioned in 1971, when it was sold to the family of the present owner. Still and Ossorio's friendship was short-lived but intense, lasting only five years and ending in dramatic fashion. Ossorio visited Still's studio in 1952, which was then on Cooper Square in New York City. "Ossorio bought three dark, intense paintings by Still. From then, in early 1952, until the end of 1957 (by which time Ossorio had obtained four more important works), he and Still carried on an extensive correspondence" (B.H. Friedman, Alfonso Ossorio, New York, 1973, p. 57). According to Friedman, Still had the use of a cottage at Ossorio's rambling estate (called "The Creeks") in the summers of 1953 and 1955 (Ibid, p. 58). "The Creeks, Ossorio's East Hampton estate, where Still painted in a barn studio, was an epicenter of artistic activity" (B. Adams, Clyfford Still: Paintings 1944-1960, New Haven, 2001, p. 146). Still's daughters--Diane and Sandra--remember in particular the summer of 1955 (letter from Diane Still Knox, 25 September 2006). Ossorio recounted that Still kept to himself--"I have a small cottage and a barn studio and he used it for two summers in the early 1950s. He lived and worked there for two or three months each summer. He saw very few people other than the Pollocks. But he saw very few artists here in New York. And he worked very hard" (Interview with Ossorio, 19 November 1968). Ossorio was an important artist in his own right. Born into a wealthy Philippino family, he studied art at Harvard and the Rhode Island School of Design in the 1930's and became an American citizen in 1939. His exhibitions in New York in the 1940's were intensely detailed surrealist-influenced work, but after meeting Pollock, Krasner and Dubuffet in 1949, his work became increasingly abstract and more expressive. Ossorio was also involved in curating and writing on art, and played an important role in the landmark Museum of Modern Art exhibition, 15 Americans. Ossorio not only wrote the catalogue entry on Pollock, but also loaned paintings by Pollock and Still to the exhibition. The show was controversial at the time, and Ossorio himself noted that "certainly a lot of Trustees hated the Fifteen Americans show - you remember, the one with Rothko, Still, Tomlin. That was the first breakthrough; the one show which is really historical of the many Dorothy [Miller] has done over forty years" (Ossorio, 1968). Still hated the art establishment, including museums, and he particularly loathed group exhibitions. He acquiesced to contribute to the show after incessant pursuit by Dorothy Miller, and the promise that his works would be shown in their own room. The present lot 1947-R-No. 1 (in its unfinished state) was one of seven Still paintings included in the exhibition. Despite Still's reservations, he recognized the ultimate importance of museums--"He knew himself well enough to realize the heartache it could cause him if he felt he was being part of it, although if you questioned him, he would finally admit that the institution has to win in the end, that you can't fight it forever. But he said that you can make a damn good try" (Ibid). Still also disliked anyone writing about or attempting to explaining his work, and he used the artist's statement in the 15 Americans catalogue to make his position clear. "That pigment on canvas has a way of initiating conventional reactions for most people needs no reminder. Behind these reactions is a body of history matured into dogma, authority, tradition. The totalitarian hegemony of this tradition I despise, its presumptions I reject. Its security is an illusion, banal, and without courage. Its substance is but dust and filing cabinets. The homage paid to it is a celebration of death. We all bear the burden of tradition on our backs but I cannot hold it a privilege to be a pallbearer of my spirit in its name...Demands for communication are both presumptuous and irrelevant. The observer usually will see what his fears and hopes and learning teach him to see. But if he can escape these demands that hold up a mirror to h himself, then perhaps some of the implications of the work maybe e felt. But whatever is seen or felt it should be remembers that for me these painting had to be something else. It is the price one has to pay for clarity when one's means are honored only as an instrument of seduction of assault" (C. Still, 15 Americans, New York, 1952, p. 22). The present lot was completed by Still at some point after the 1952 exhibition of 15 Americans. Since Still's relationship with Ossorio lasted between 1952-1957, it is most likely that the painting was completed at this time. During this period, Still would have had access to the painting and a studio as well. Between 1955-1958, events were transpiring that were to preclude Still's access to this painting after 1957. Still's relationship with Ossorio soured in the mid-1950's. Around 1956, "Ossorio also inevitably becomes an "enemy" (Friedman, p. 58). Their correspondence becomes more formal and at times testy. B.H. Friedman relays the explosive end to their relationship--"The correspondence deteriorates into a conflict of pride, expressed in an exchange of telegrams. On December 27, 1957, Still wires requesting that his large brown, blue and black canvas be rolled and returned to him. Two days later, he follows up the telegram with a letter. At the beginning of 1958, Ossorio wires: "ISSUES SUFFICIENTLY COMPLEX TO DEMAND CLARIFICATION ON ALL LEVELS"...but the awful clarification of what has happened to their relationship does not come for a few more days. Then, with his wife and daughter, Still makes the three-hour trip to East Hampton by train, hires a taxi at the station, and, keeping it waiting at Ossorio's door while he goes inside, slashes out the center of the painting referred to in his telegram and letter and carries it off, rolled, under his arm" (Ibid). In the 1970's, Ossorio began selling works from his incomparable collection. Thomas Gibson in London mounted a show of 14 masterpieces, including de Kooning's Two Women on a Wharf (1949), Dubuffet's Corps de Dame Concentration Fluidique (1951), Pollock's Number I (Lavender Mist), as well as major paintings by Clyfford Still. Ossorio wrote for the catalogue, "as with all of Still's work, the inner spirit of his painting reveals itself to an observer who will take the trouble to examine without prejudice or preconception what is before him" (Fourteen Paintings, London, 1976, n.p.). In 1971, Robert Elkon Gallery sold 1947-R-No. 1 to a young New York couple, and the painting has remained in their family collection for the last 35 years. Unlike his Abstract Expressionist peers, Still would often make more than one version, and this composition exists in two larger scale versions. Although each is slightly different, they retain the basic compositional format, forms and palette. 1947-R-No. 1 is more thickly painted, and less aqueous in feeling than the 1947-R No. 2. Curiously, in this regard, Still's practice is more closely related to his Pop Art peers who created similar versions of works than his Abstract Expressionist colleagues, to whom repetition was considered anathema. Unlike Pop artists, however, who were interested in serial imagery to mimic and mock consumerism, Still's additional versions, or "re-statements" were a vehicle to work out different painterly ideas. 1947-R-No. 1 features majestic expanses of color, crackling with turbulent flashes of energy, exemplifying the artist's "life or death" drama through painterly abstraction. Encrusted layers of red over brown, interspersed with flickering flames of black pigment and flashes or orange and white, 1947-R-No. 1 seems pregnant with the idea of corporal existence springing from and returning to the earth. The forthcoming Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, which may open as early as 2009, will be a watershed event in the appreciation of the artist. For the first time, viewers will be able to see the scope and breadth of his achievement. The artist's archives, which are currently sealed, will eventually be released and provide valuable documents to help scholars understand the historical period during which he lived. Nonetheless, what will not change is the total number of works that Still sold without restriction, which is believed to be approximately 150. For collectors seeking a seminal Still, the offering of 1947-R-No. 1 is a rare event--it is historically important, of the highest quality, from an impeccable provenance, with an illustrious exhibition history and completely fresh to the market after 35 years.