Denver, CO – January 17, 2020 – Opening today, the Clyfford Still Museum’s new exhibition The Early Years: Clyfford Still in Canada, 1920–33 illustrates the early development and legacy of Still’s artistic practices in two distinctive Canadian geographical settings, Bow Island (1920–25) and Killam, Alberta (1925–33).
Organized by guest curator Patricia Failing, the exhibition is the third in a series tracing Still’s inspirations and achievements during his first two decades as a young artist. The exhibition examines thematic and stylistic shifts in his early years and highlights how some of his later abstract works recall the visual sensibilities Still cultivated at a young age.
Nearly all of Still’s work from Bow Island, aside from portraits, represents the area’s seasonal prairie environment. Despite harsh conditions, Still’s Bow Island work featured sunny landscapes, sketches of plants and animals, and atmospheric color studies.
In 1925, Still’s family moved 230 miles north to Killam. Like his practice in Bow Island, Still’s Killam paintings and drawings concentrate on the landscape around his family’s farm. In contrast to the tan prairie of Bow Island, the landscape in Killam also hosts groves of deciduous trees, small ponds and banks of leafy shrubs. “The contrast between Bow Island and Killam work is not terribly difficult to ascertain,” says Failing.
According to Failing, it was not only the landscape that changed in Still’s early art. With additional artistic training in the mid- and late-1920s, his work became technically more adventuresome. Earlier drawings and paintings are primarily observational recordings of landscapes, railroads, and grain elevators. After the move north, Still depicts many of the same subjects, but draws more attention to aesthetic effects. Grain elevators and other structures are treated as shafts of atmospheric colored light penetrating long, horizontal stretches of sky. Compositions become more complex and the drawings document a new facility with rendering human figures in action. Still’s color palette brightens, and he expands his repertoire of painting techniques. These shifts during the first 10 years of his artistic career were relatively subtle. “It’s not that his recordings become more ‘advanced;’ it is that he’s broadening his capabilities,” Failing said.
The exhibition concludes with some of Still’s later, mature abstractions, which Still believed, “have nothing to do with prairie.” The chromatic and special effects that emerge in the work of the 1970s on view echo some of his youthful beginnings.
The Museum will offer a new historical and biographical context for the Canadian work in the catalog for the exhibition.
Situated in the Museum’s first three galleries, The Early Years exhibition will be open until April 26, 2020. Galleries 4 through 9 include collection highlights. Visit clyffordstillmuseum.org for more information on the exhibition and related events and programs.
About the Clyfford Still Museum
Designed by Allied Works Architecture to display the revolutionary art of a modern master, the Clyfford Still Museum opened in November 2011 in Denver’s burgeoning Golden Triangle Creative District. Considered one of the most important and mysterious painters of the 20th century, Clyfford Still (1904-1980) was among the first generation of abstract expressionist artists who developed a new and powerful approach to painting in the years during and immediately after World War II. The Museum’s collection represents 95% of the artist’s lifetime output. As the steward of Still’s art and legacy, the Museum’s mission is to preserve, exhibit, study, and foster engagement with its unique collections; generate outstanding exhibitions, scholarly research, educational and other cross-disciplinary programs that broaden the definition of a “single-artist” museum; and be a gathering place for the exploration of innovation and individual artistic endeavor. Connect with the Clyfford Still Museum on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or at clyffordstillmuseum.org.