Denver artist and visitors services representative for the Clyfford Still Museum Adam Milner writes about the first loaned work by Still to the Museum, PH-726, 1936.
While helping to prepare our new exhibition, Vincent/Clyfford, I was struck by a small maquette of a pale beige painting. The image tugged at my attention even as a small inkjet reproduction, no bigger than an inch. Imagine my satisfaction when I had my first encounter with the actual work, now on exhibition!
The 1936 painting, catalogued by Still as PH-726, portrays a nude, Depression-era couple in a sort of embrace. Their bodies, made up of cold grey lines and soft beige forms, undulate and almost even quiver before my eyes. If a vibrant life force can be found within Still’s compositions, then this work is more like a weak, flickering flame of a candle than the roaring fires we see in his later works. It’s quiet, but the despair is blatant: the man’s heavy hand falls toward the bottom of the frame like an anchor, the figures’ facial features disappear beneath their anguished bodies, and the muted color palette evokes not vitality, but weakness. And still, it is not hopeless: the bodies are punctuated with lively alizarin nipples and bold yellow hair, and the support between the figures is poignant as they become one body instead of two. The work reveals an extreme intimacy that perhaps can only be found in desperate circumstances.
As I have returned to this piece weekly, my personal affinity for it has only grown. Excitingly, this work is the Clyfford Still Museum’s first work on loan. I can’t avoid daydreaming of this painting – wondering where it lived before becoming such an important part of Vincent/Clyfford, where it has been selected based on its thought provoking connection to Vincent van Gogh’s Sorrow (1882).
PH-726, 1936 as part of Vincent/Clyfford, is now on view through January 20, 2013.