The War Begins examines Clyfford Still’s dynamic personal and creative journey through the years of World War II. The central topic of the exhibition is the dialogue, unknown until now, between Still’s work in war industries and his early breakthrough into abstraction.
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Forty of the 65 works included in The War Begins, created between 1939 and 1945, have never before been displayed in public. Recently uncovered materials from the Clyfford Still Museum Archives, including wartime photojournalism from Still’s library and blueprints from his shipyard job, are also included in this exhibition. Intimate paintings of the artist’s parents and a graphite sketch of his 16-month-old daughter, Diane, further illustrate this dramatic period of change in Still’s life, when the artist relocated with his burgeoning family to the San Francisco Bay Area—where he would eventually meet Mark Rothko in 1943—to work on wartime ship and aircraft production.
The early 1940s was a time of great creative development for Still. A number of paintings from this phase in California—exemplified by PH-613, 1942—establish Still’s early move into an Abstract Expressionist style well in advance of other artists in New York City. Likewise, the monumental dimensions of PH-235, 1944, anticipate the Abstract Expressionists’ use of large scale in the late 1940s. Along with these prominent examples, Still’s diminutive visual “notes” also contain the germ of ideas that would grow into his subsequent large and daring oils on canvas.
The exhibition’s significant contributions to the scholarship and personal history of the artist mark the third anniversary of the Clyfford Still Museum’s opening. With this exhibition—the tenth in the Clyfford Still Museum’s history—and an October rotation of works on paper, more than 500 of the approximately 3,200 works at the Museum will have been displayed here since the Museum’s opening in November, 2011.
The War Begins: Clyfford Still’s Paths to Abstraction is curated by Dr. David Anfam, Senior Consulting Curator and Director of the Clyfford Still Museum Research Center (CSMRC).