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Clyfford Still

United States (1904 -  1980 ) Wikipedia® : Clyfford Still
STILL Clyfford 1960-f

Nov 13, 2013
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Artworks in Arcadja

Some works of Clyfford Still

Extracted between 28 works in the catalog of Arcadja
Clyfford Still - Untitled

Clyfford Still - Untitled

Original 1937


Gross Price
Lot number: 111
Clyfford Still 1904 - 1980


signed Clyfford and dated 37 (lower left); also inscribed To my friends the Whiffens/Clyfford Still '41 on the reverse oil on canvas 20 1/4 by 26 1/4 inches (51.4 by 66.7 cm)


Glenn and Jessie Whiffen, Pullman, Washington, 1941 (gift from the artist) Gift to the present owner from the above, 1951

Catalogue Note

Clyfford Still was among the pioneers of the Abstract Expressionist movement that emerged in the United States following World War II and utilized abstraction to convey intense emotion. Executed in 1937, Untitled (Grand Coulee Dam, Washington) is a rare example of the artist\’\’\’\’\’\’\’\’s early work painted before his style shifted from representational to abstract. Using a range of blue hues punctuated by flashes of bright color, Still renders a scene from the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in north central Washington, an area not far from his childhood home in Spokane and Washington State College in Pullman, where he attended graduate school and was teaching at the time. Still was particularly interested in and concerned by the effects of the dam on the region\’\’\’\’\’\’\’\’s native population, and scenes from the nearby Colville Indian Reservation appear in many of his early compositions. In 1937, he co-founded the Nespelem Art Colony, which was active until 1941 and sought to depict the landscape and people of the Colville Reservation. As indicated by an inscription on the reverse of the painting, Still gave Untitled (Grand Coulee Dam, Washington) to his friends Glenn and Jessie Whiffen in 1941. Like Still, Glenn Whiffen was a professor at Washington State College. Ten years later, the Whiffens gave the painting to a close friend who had been a student of Still\’\’\’\’\’\’\’\’s and recently returned to teach as WSC. In a letter written in 2009, the owner reflected on his experience with Still as a professor, \“I was quite young but I recall that he was easy to talk to and was keenly interested in students. Mr. Still\’\’\’\’\’\’\’\’s class in Art History showed that he had a good knowledge of the subject, and he often would delve into the details of a particular painting or piece of art. I never saw him paint, but I saw his artistic ability evidenced in the charcoal and crayon drawings he did in class. His works, then more realistic and semi-abstract, were captivating and certainly a far cry away from his later works.\”
Clyfford Still - Ph-218

Clyfford Still - Ph-218

Original 1947


Gross Price
Lot number: 41
Clyfford Still

1904 - 1980


Signed Clyfford Still and dated 1947 (lower right); signed Clyfford and titled PH-218 and inscribed 1947-K twice on the reverse

Oil on canvas

63 by 40 in.

160 by 101.6 cm.

Painted in 1947.

Please note that in the print catalogue for this sale, this lot appears as number 41T.

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Saleroom Notice


Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Inc., New York (acquired from the artist in 1969)

Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Philips, Dayton, Ohio

Hokin Gallery, Chicago

Barbara Divver Fine Arts, New York

Acquired from the above by A. Alfred Taubman in January 1981


San Francisco, California School of Fine Arts, Private Showing, 1947

New York, Cornelia Street Studio, Private Showing, 1948

New York, 23rd Street Studio, Private Showing, 1955, 1956 and 1957

Buffalo, Albright Art Gallery, The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Paintings by Clyfford Still, November 5 - December 13, 1959, no. 27

Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Clyfford Still, October 18 - December 15, 1963, no. 5, illustrated in the catalogue

New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Inc., Clyfford Still, November 1969 - January 1970, cat. no. 10, illustrated in color in the catalogue (as 1947-K)

Ohio, Dayton Art Institute, Contemporary Art from Dayton Collections, June 23 - September 16, 1970


Mizue Magazine, no. 726, Japan, August 1965, illustrated

John P. O'Neill, ed., "Documentary Photographs," Clyfford Still (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1979, illustrated p. 210 (in installation at Albright Art Gallery, 1959) Dean Sobel and David Anfam, Clyfford Still: The Artist's Museum, New York, 2012, fig. 15, illustrated p. 27 (in installation at Albright Art Gallery, 1959)

Catalogue Note

In his statement for the catalogue of the 1952 15 Americans exhibition curated by Dorothy Miller at New York\’\’s Museum of Modern Art, Clyfford Still wrote eloquently of his view of the cultural frontiers at mid-century: \“We are now committed to an unqualified act, not illustrating outworn myths or contemporary alibis. One must accept total responsibility for what he executes. And the measure of his greatness will be in the depth of his insight and his courage in realizing his vision\” (exhibition catalogue, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 15 Americans, 1952, p. 22). PH-218 is a masterful realization of Still\’\’s distinctive vision, presenting its viewer with a glimpse into the depths of the artist\’\’s innovative aesthetic and existing as a true measure of his irrefutable artistic magnitude. Still was a towering figure of unwavering commitment to creative originality and aesthetic freedom. At the forefront of American Abstract Expressionism, Still\’\’s role cannot be overstated as one examines the impact of his paintings when first seen in the New York art world in 1946, just one year before he painted PH-218. In the transformative history of American painting of the 20th century, Still is a unique presence: this maverick was incisively intelligent, utterly influential and independently bold.

PH-218 is a critical early touchstone of Still\’\’s practice and was exhibited in two of his first major solo museum exhibitions, at the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo in 1959 and at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 1963. Still\’\’s masterful paint applications are on full display in the seemingly spontaneous, yet utterly cohesive, abstracted forms that stride across the surface of the present work. The predominating hues of rich blue, black, golden brown and maroon red exhibit a fascinating and mysterious array of both tonal and textural varieties as they concurrently merge with, and expose, their unprimed canvas ground. These various fields of color commune with one another entirely organically, punctuated at distinct spots by vibrant accents of white and vivid yellow. Resolutely abstract, PH-218 projects a narrative based not on figural representation but on a spellbinding synthesis of color, contour and painterly dynamism. Still approached each of his canvases with a formidable sense of purpose and a deep desire to express the inexpressible; each stroke, each nuance of surface, each color was assiduously applied as a compelling means of self-expression and universal import.

Still\’\’s corpus is the ultimate testament to the artist\’\’s unique genius for creating compositions that exude a sense of the living spirit. In his essay for the 1990 exhibition of Still\’\’s work at the Mary Boone Gallery, Ben Heller eloquently and concisely summarized the essential qualities of Still\’\’s work that allowed him to be among the first to create paintings free of depiction, narrative and symbolism. \“Color, surface, edge, scale, shape, verticality, pressure, tension, relaxation, movement, grandeur – these are the painter\’\’s tools. To speak of them as subjects for paintings is but a way to draw attention to Still\’\’s ingenious and highly personal manipulations of these tools, to his fusion of technique, image and power, the means by which he acts upon our feelings, the essence of his mystery and greatness\” (exhibition catalogue, New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Clyfford Still: Dark Hues/Close Values, 1990, n.p.). Exemplary of this apt summation, the present work is consequently archetypal amongst Still\’\’s most significant canvases. From Still\’\’s earliest explorations into Surrealist-tinged abstraction of the late 1930s and early 1940s to the landmark abstract creations of the late 1940s and ending with the majesty of the paintings of the 1960s and 1970s, each seminal stage in the artist\’\’s inspiring career is wrapped in a story of location and movement. Unique among the major figures of the day, Still lived and worked amid the creative communities of the East and West Coast at mid-century. Still\’\’s first one-man museum show was at the Museum of Art in San Francisco in 1943, but he would also show at the legendary Manhattan galleries during the same period, championed by his friends Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. When his first one-man New York exhibition opened at Art of This Century in February 1946, Rothko wrote the introduction to the catalogue, extolling Still\’\’s radical and revelatory work, and it was in the creative hotbed of New York Abstract Expressionism that Still would -- for a time -- find his most inspiring community of fellow artists. Unlike Jackson Pollock, David Smith or Willem de Kooning, the pursuit of the sublime was a common goal for Newman, Still and Rothko, who shared a deep personal and professional kinship. All three were passionately adamant about the manner in which their work should be viewed and stressed the value of experiencing their art in a plenitude of canvases that could co-relate with one another.

Viewing PH-218 is an undeniably overwhelming and awe-inspiring experience on its own. As with the greatest examples of Mark Rothko\’\’ s sublime color field paintings, or Barnett Newman\’\’s stunningly simple \‘zips,\’\’ Clyfford Still\’\’s fields of unfettered artistic expression elicit deep and instantaneous emotions. When viewed in person it is impossible not to feel entirely subsumed by the swirling, sweeping strokes of pigment. Through color and its palette knife application, Still imbued PH-218 with a pronounced presence, thereby creating a visual drama through edge, surface, luminosity, texture and expression. As Ben Heller wrote: \“I suggest that our primary response to Still is emotional … We feel, react to, and are stirred by the maelstrom of forces Still assembled. … But of course the most immediate of all our responses is to color. Color is broad, flat; it fills and flows. It is mystical, intense, direct. Where line is descriptive, analytical, intellectual and rational, color, like music is sensory, the carrier of emotion, the key access to the source of our feelings and instincts…\” (Ibid, n.p.).

Still\’\’s oeuvre is indispensable to the birth of Abstract Expressionism and he intentionally belonged to no one genre of art. He believed in the integrity of a rigorously personal style of painting that was an organic part of the individual creator rather than derived from a movement or discipline. For Still, painting should –- above all else -- be a pure and singular totality that could speak to the soul and address universal themes of life, death, freedom and oppression that were the very essence of philosophical discourse in the postwar world at mid-century. His credo, as it applied to the viewer and to his conception of the role of the artist, is perhaps best summarized in his own words, \“I want the spectator to be reassured that something that he values within himself has been touched and found a kind of correspondence. That being alive, having the courage, not just to be different but to go your own way, accepting responsibility for what you do best, has value, is worth the labor\” (Excerpted in Dean Sobel and David Anfam, Clyfford Still: The Artist\’\’s Museum, New York, 2012, p. 101).


By Thomas Kellein

In 1963 Clyfford Still donated a representative selection of 31 works to the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo; in 1975 he followed this with a donation of 28 paintings to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. After his death, Still\’\’s widow Patricia gave ten additional paintings to the New York Metropolitan Museum\’\’s newly opened wing for 20th Century Art as a memorial to the greatest exhibition Still\’\’s work had received during his lifetime. The idea of these three large donations was to place a very particular, discrete part of a total collection in each of those museums. Still was not only the first painter to develop the Big Canvas into an artistic form; he also wanted rooms of his own and asked that his authority with regard to the installation of his art be respected.

Since 1961 Still lived and worked in Maryland, outside metropolitan Baltimore and far from New York. He avoided social contact with the art scene, and he despised artists who wanted to be commercial. Of the more than 2,000 works he created, roughly 80 were donated and approximately 100 were sold before the posthumous founding of his museum in Denver, so that to this day an acquisition of one of his paintings is a very special event. However, Still did not want to be isolated. He traveled and corresponded a great deal. After his exhibition debuts with Peggy Guggenheim in 1946 and with Betty Parsons in 1947, he furnished exhibition catalogues in the course of the following decades with trenchant statements. \“It was a journey that one must make, walking straight and alone,\” he wrote significantly on New Year\’\’s Day 1959 to the Director of the Albright Art Gallery, Gordon Smith, on the occasion of his first exhibition in Buffalo, to characterize his artistic development as a path fraught with dangers.

Clyfford Still thought of himself as the survivor of an Odyssey. As early as 1946 his colleague Robert Motherwell described him as \“the most original. A bolt out of the blue.\” His main theme at the beginning of his painting career was American prairie landscapes with standing human figures. From 1938 on he numbered his works and made the artistic choice of using a palette knife besides his brush on the canvas. His figures became less and less products of drawing and assumed more and more the appearance of islands of color, almost like parts of nature. These islands developed into landscapes, both earthy and multicolored, to become emphatically contrasting structures whose formal relationships were almost impossible to interpret without knowledge of the preceding depictions of themes of solitude and danger in his work. Especially during the years of World War 2, Still struggled to define an independent pictorial language and developed his mutually repelling and attracting forms, his slow continental drift in painting. The pictorial elements do not join into a stable order, as they do in Mondrian. Nor do we find archaic or surreal themes. Instead the surfaces appear as crusts, as crude matter, laid on with the palette knife, ample stretches slashed through, as if in a desert, by flashes of light or even lightning bolts.

PH-218, which was painted in San Francisco in 1947, where Still taught for four years at the California School of Fine Arts, presents masses of color that combine the darting and blazing vitality of fire with a quality of somber gloom. This wholly original work, somewhat reminiscent of El Greco\’\’s dramatic spaces, evinces heights and depths, colors and light. Stylistically we can already discern the articulate form of tranquility that is typical of Still. His works breathe, sing, and are silent. They give rise to an experience of grandeur, genesis, and vastness that will continue to live in American art decades later, not only in Minimal Art and in Land Art.

Fig. 1

The present work installed in the exhibition Paintings by
Clyfford Still
, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 1959, Albright-Knox Art Gallery / Art Resource, NY, © City and County of Denver, courtesy the Clyfford Still Museum / artists right

Fig. 2

The present work installed in the exhibition
Clyfford Still
, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1963, © City and County of Denver, courtesy the Clyfford Still Museum / artists rights society (ars), New York

Fig. 3

Ans Namuth,
Clyfford Still
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, © 1991 Hans Namuth Estate, © City and County of Denver, Courtesy the Clyfford Still Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Fig. 4

Jackson Pollock,
Blue Poles
, 1952, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra / Bridgeman Images, © 2015 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Fig. 5

Mark Rothko,
No. 3/No. 13
, 1949, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Clyfford Still - Ph-1033

Clyfford Still - Ph-1033

Original 1976


Gross Price
Lot number: 35
Clyfford Still (1904-1980) PH-1033 signed and dated 'Clyfford 11-29-76' (lower right); signed again and titled 'Clyfford PH-1033' (on the reverse) oil on canvas 93½ x 83 in. (237.4 x 210.8 cm.) Painted in 1976.
On occasion, Christie\’\’\’\’s has a direct financial interest in lots consigned for sale, which may include guaranteeing a minimum price or making an advance to the consignor that is secured solely by consigned property. Christie\’\’\’\’s may choose to assume this financial risk on its own or may contract with a third party for such third party to assume all or part of this financial risk. When a third party agrees to finance all or part of Christie\’\’\’\’ s interest in a lot, it takes on all or part of the risk of the lot not being sold, and will be remunerated in exchange for accepting this risk. The third party may also bid for the lot. Where it does so, and is the successful bidder, the remuneration may be netted against the final purchase price. If the lot is not sold, the third party may incur a loss. Christie\’\’\’\’s guarantee of a minimum price for this lot has been fully financed through third parties.
The estate of the artist Mrs. Patricia Still, New Windsor Her sale; Sotheby's, New York, 9 November 2011, lot 13 Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Clyfford Still, November 1979-February 1980, p. 166, no. 73 (illustrated in color). Palm Beach, Norton Museum of Art, American Masters at the Norton: Clyfford Still and Joan Mitchell, March-September 2012. Philadelphia Museum of Art, September 2012-March 2014 (on loan).
Clyfford Still - 1960-f

Clyfford Still - 1960-f



Lot number: 44
Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist in 1969)

Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston

Ernst Beyeler, New York (acquired from the above in 1987)

Gagosian Gallery, New York

Onnasch Collection, Berlin (acquired from the above in 1992)

Sotheby's, New York, May 12, 2004, Lot 20

Acquired by the present owner from the above

New York, Artist's Studio, 128 West 23rd Street, 1960

Westminster, Maryland, Artist's Studio, 1962

Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Clyfford Still, October - December 1963, cat. no. 25, illustrated

New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Clyfford Still, October - November 1969, cat. no. 38, p. 75, illustrated in color

Houston, Museum of Fine Art, The Great Decade of American Abstraction: Modernist Art 1960-1970, January - March 1974

Lubbock, Museum of Texas Tech University; Fort Worth, Fort Worth Art Museum; San Antonio, San Antonio Museum (and travelling throughout Texas), American Abstract Expressionist Paintings from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, 1977 - 1980, illustrated in color on the cover of the brochure

Akron, Akron Art Institute; San Diego, San Diego Museum of Art; Lawrence, Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas; Birmingham, Birmingham Museum of Art; Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Lincoln, University of Nebraska; Oklahoma City, Art Center; Evanston, Northwestern University, Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, American Abstract Expressionist Painting from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, March 1982 - October 1985, illustrated in color on the cover of the brochure

Madison, Art Center; Corpus Christi, State University; Sacramento, Crocker Art Gallery, American Abstract Expressionist Paintings from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, February - August 1986, illustrated in color on the cover of the brochure

Perth, Art Gallery of Western Australia; Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, America: Art and the West, December 1986 - April 1987, cat. no. 67, illustrated in color

Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Exploring Abstraction, July - September 1989, cat. no. 88, illustrated in color

New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Clyfford Still, Dark Hues/Close Values, October - November 1990, n. p., illustrated in color

Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau; London, Royal Academy of Arts, Amerikanische Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, Malerei und Plastik 1913-1993, May - December 1993, cat. no. 106, illustrated in color

Hamburg, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Ausblicke Onnasch, January 1994 - November 1995

Hamburg, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Extended Loan, 1997 - 2001

Barcelona, Museu d'Art Contemporani; Serralves, Museu Serralves, Museu d'Arte Contemporanea, The Onnasch Collection: Aspects of Contemporary Art, November 2001 - June 2002, p. 51, illustrated in color


Clyfford Still

1904 - 1980


signed Clyfford, titled and dated 1960-F on the reverse

oil on canvas

112 x 144 1/2 in. 285.5 x 367 cm.


15,000,000 - 20,000,000 USD


This painting is in excellent condition overall. Please contact the Contemporary Art department at 212-606-7254 for the condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is framed in a dark blonde wood strip frame with small black float.
Clyfford Still - Ph-1

Clyfford Still - Ph-1

Original 1953


Lot number: 21
Lot Description

Clyfford Still (1904-1980)


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.


Jeffrey H. Loria, 1980

Acquired from the above by the present owner

Pre-Lot Text



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
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