Among the characteristics that define Clyfford Still’s paintings — dramatic textures, monumental scale, and jagged, vertical forms — Still’s use of color contributes substantially to a viewer’s experience. This exhibition highlights the importance – and possible meaning – of color throughout Still’s career.
Still’s interest in high-key color — red, yellow, and blue, in particular — is apparent in very early works where landscape and clothing are reduced to these “primary colors.” Acutely knowledgeable about both color theory and the history of art, Still was keenly attuned to how artists used color in both modern as well as much earlier times. While Still never acknowledged an overt color symbolism for his work (for example, blue implying melancholy or red equating violence), this exhibition raises essential questions about the role and function of color in his art.
Each color theme in this exhibition includes at least one pre-abstract expressionist period work (before around 1945) as well as a “late-period” work (made after his move to Maryland in 1961), allowing for a fuller picture of the prominent role color played over Still's five-decade career. Still’s use of color also represents the ways he influenced, and was in dialogue with artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, his closest allies in the late 1940s.
"I want to be in total command of the colors, as in an orchestra. They are voices.” -Clyfford Still
“Color is an integral part of the conception. The works are conceived in color and do not exist amply without it. Each picture takes on the color it demands.”
"Black was never a color of death or terror for me. I think of it as warm—and generative.”
Curator — Dean Sobel, Director, Clyfford Still Museum