Although Clyfford Still’s work and thought have been linked to many other artists, one name is largely absent from the roster: nineteenth-century Dutchman Vincent Van Gogh. In conjunction with the Denver Art Museum’s landmark presentation Becoming Van Gogh (October 21, 2012–January 20, 2013), Vincent/Clyfford explores the connections between Van Gogh and Still.
Vincent/Clyfford features approximately 20 paintings and works on paper created by Still during a formative period of his career, from the late 1920s and 1930s. These works display direct parallels with Van Gogh’s preferred subject matter—including vignettes of agrarian labor, moody landscapes treated as soul-scapes, and dark interior scenes—as well as his use of the grotesque to accentuate the plight of human beings living on the edge. Still’s tough childhood experiences farming on the prairies of Alberta, Canada, aligned him with Van Gogh’s own close identification with the land and those who toiled on it to survive. Cycles of growth, decay, and rebirth in their work are evoked through recurrent symbols such as corn, the sun, and the sower. Still’s paintings also echo Van Gogh’s in their rich color palette and heavily troweled painterly surfaces.
Above all, Van Gogh and Still shared a messianic aesthetic zeal. In tandem, they envisaged the artist as a passionate, spiritual seer and his achievement as a kind of surrogate religion—a moral force.
Curated by Adjunct Curator David Anfam