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Clyfford Still black and white photo
Photo by: Sandra Still, courtesy the Clyfford Still Museum Archives.

Ten Timeless Quotes by Clyfford Still

By Kristin Kirsch Feldkamp, Editorial Assistant

If you have been to the Museum, you probably know that Clyfford Still was a prolific artist. (The Museum houses some 830 paintings, and our current exhibition, Clyfford Still: The Works on Paper, highlights 260 of Denver’s 2,361 works on paper by Still.) However, you might not know that Still was a prolific writer as well. Our Archives are home to thousands of pages of letters to and from other important artists, art dealers, critics, curators, and others. In fact, the current exhibition’s tagline—“a visual diary of a personal world”—was excerpted from one of these historic letters written by Still.

As we celebrate today what would be Still’s 112th birthday we’re taking a moment to reflect on the great man and some of his most profound words. Here are ten timeless quotes (and five complementary works of art) from Still.

Currently on view, PH-457 was one of Still’s early abstractions. Image Credit: Clyfford Still, PH-457, 1942-43. Oil on paper. 19 1/8 x 12 1/2 inches (48.7 x 31.8 cm). © City and County of Denver / ARS, NY.

1. On moving away from representational art: “I felt it necessary to evolve entirely new concepts — of form and space and painting — and postulate them in an instrument that could continue to shake itself free from dialectical perversions.”

2. On space and figure: “By 1941, space and figure in my canvases had been resolved into a total psychic entity, freeing me from the limitations of each, yet fusing into an instrument bounded only by the limits of energy and intuition. My feeling of freedom was now absolute and infinitely exhilarating.”

PH-247, affectionately nicknamed “Big Blue,” is a monumental painting. Normally on view, it is currently on loan to the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. Image Credit: Clyfford Still, PH-247, 1951. Oil on canvas, 117 x 92 inches (297.2 x 487.7 cm) © City and County of Denver / ARS, NY.

3. On how to interpret his work: “People should look at the work itself and determine its meaning to them. I prefer the innocent reaction of those who might think that they see cloud shapes in my paintings to what [a critic] says that he sees in them.”

4. On scale: “It’s intolerable to be stopped by a frame’s edge.”

Image Credit: Clyfford Still, PH-972, 1959. Oil on canvas, 112 x 155 inches (284.5 x 393.7 cm). © City and County of Denver / ARS, NY.

5. On color: “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.”

6. On the color black: “Black was never a color of death or terror for me.  I think of it as warm – and generative.”

PH-471 is currently on view at the Museum. Image Credit: Clyfford Still, PH-471, 1944. Oil on paper, 26 x 20 inches (66 x 50.8 cm). © City and County of Denver / ARS, New York.

7. On the role of color: “I want to be in total command of the colors, as in an orchestra.  They are voices.”

8. On the role of art: “I choose that my art be engaged in that which exalts the spirit of man.”

Currently on view, PD-24 is one of several figure drawings Still made in the 1930s using his wife as a model. Image Credit: Clyfford Still, PD-24, 1932. Charcoal on paper, 25 x 19 inches (63.5 x 48.3 cm). © City and County of Denver / ARS, NY.

9. On the figure: “The figure stands behind it all.”

10. On complexity: “I do not intend to oversimplify – in fact, I revel in the extra-complex.”

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