PH-233 [formerly Self-Portrait]

Clyfford Still1945

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Clyfford Still is best known for forceful paintings composed of huge fields of color laid on with a bravura use of a palette knife. His more modest early canvases, made in the 1930s and 1940s, reveal his own evolution toward abstraction. He began by absorbing the lessons of European Modernism. In works such as Untitled [formerly Self-Portrait], of 1945, one can see him responding to German Expressionism and Surrealism but forging a unique style. Vigorous areas of color are contrasted with fine, twisting lines. Forms are rendered but hover in indeterminate spaces.

In such paintings one senses the emergence of a new American Modernism. Whereas the previous generation had represented the architecture and inhabitants of the modern city, Still embedded his modernist sensibility in the materials of painting, making the paint itself a vivid reflection of the artist's will.

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  • Title: PH-233 [formerly Self-Portrait]
  • Creator: Clyfford Still
  • Date Created: 1945
  • Physical Dimensions: w1066.8 x h1800.35 in (overall)
  • Type: painting
  • Rights: © City & County of Denver, Courtesy Clyfford Still Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • External Link: SFMOMA
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • More Info: More About This Artist - SFMOMA
  • Credit Line: Gift of Peggy Guggenheim
  • Artwork Reference Number: PH 233
  • About the Artist: After studying and teaching art in Washington State, Clyfford Still began his influential tenure (1946–50) on the faculty at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. There he turned a younger generation away from the social realism of the early 20th century and toward gestural abstraction. He then spent much of the 1950s in New York, but he eschewed any association with the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. Still chose to develop his work independently, relying on the primacy of personal experience and the study and distillation of his own painting. Unlike most artists of his day, he ground and prepared his own pigments, applying them to canvas with both a palette knife and brush. Still's mature style consisted of jagged-edged fields of pigment, heavily applied and worked into a thick, scabrous surface. He was an outspoken proponent of the idea that abstract painting could portray his inner psychic state, and he vigorously denied any direct associations with landscape imagery in his work: "I paint only myself, not nature." Nevertheless, Still's large-scale paintings often suggest primordial landscapes, rendered in the deep colors of the earth.