During the summers of 1934 and 1935, Clyfford Still was a guest at Yaddo, the artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York. Still was a twenty-eight-year-old graduate student and teaching fellow at Washington State College in Pullman when first invited to Yaddo, and at the time, his resumé was minimal compared to other guests. Still remembered his time at Yaddo as “the first absolute free time in [my] life…to think, dream and paint.” Here, Still wrote that he began to “move away from painting as reacting to that which one sees from outside,” towards a “concept of painting as inner comprehension.”
At the center of this exhibition and its accompanying catalogue are the 19 small paintings Still created at Yaddo. These renderings of regional farming scenes and rural landscapes represent newly introspective figurative work that Still understood as “bordering on the tragic” and “forcefully moving.” Installed in two of the Museum’s intimate, low-ceiling galleries, A Light of His Own also includes Still’s significant hand/head study on loan from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York.
Later works on view illustrate ways Still repurposed his Yaddo images, as his career progressed, into grotesque social commentary and symbolic forms alluding to sexual drive and mythical dualisms. As the metaphorical content of these post-Yaddo compositions begins to intertwine and grow, figures merge, fragment and dissolve, igniting visual energies that will ultimately inspire Clyfford Still to create some of the mid-twentieth century’s most unprecedented modernist paintings.
A Light of His Own is curated by Patricia Failing, professor emerita, division of art history, University of Washington–Seattle. It is surrounded by a new display of the permanent collection installed throughout all of the Lanny and Sharon Martin Galleries.