by Victoria Eastburn, director of education & programs
As we dig deeper into Clyfford Still’s work and learn more about the man himself, we see an independent spirit who pushed the boundaries of his medium to make new work. This spirit is not unlike those artists and independent musicians working in Denver today. We invited the band FaceMan, headlining our first lawn concert this Friday, to contribute to STILL LIFE. Faceman (Steve) and I sat down for an initial conversation, the excerpts of which can be found below. We will continue this conversation and share more thoughts from the band in future posts.
The one thing that keeps coming back to me but I haven’t completely vetted is this idea of “controlled reaction.” It seems, from my very limited reading and discussion with you, that Still was very particular about how his art would be viewed.
That’s true. He was very particular about how his work was exhibited, holding on to pretty much 94% of it over the course of his lifetime. This particularity was based on the idea that his art was best shown in groups, a vision for how his art worked together. It is interesting that as open as Still was to interpretation, not speaking about the meaning of the works directly, more cryptically if at all, that he also had reactions to critics who he thought misunderstood it. So he was critical of critics. But according to Sandra, his daughter, if you asked him what a painting meant, he’d probably say, “Well, what do you think?” and to your answer then say, “Well, that tells me a lot about you.”
It’s interesting to me that he seemed so into controlling how people experience his work but then with his work he seems to reject boundaries (e.g. “It’s intolerable to be stopped by a frame’s edge”). I can’t put my finger on it yet but it seems that there is something interesting going on with the rejection of control in his work and the rejection of the physical confinement that the process and materials inherently create as compared to the intense desire to controlling how his art, as a whole, is viewed and a desire that all the work is showed together and is not shown with other artists.
I agree—there’s an interesting dichotomy there. Still was completely protective of his art. Maybe it was about the difficulty of release—your controlled reaction idea. On the one hand, the work was abstract and free. It was about emotion, experience, big themes related to human existence, or whatever the viewer makes it. On the other hand, Still’s particularity was about adhering to a vision for how best his art was seen—what he felt was best for the art and an intended experience was part of the art. I don’t know that Still controlled the interpretation of the work (except with critics, perhaps, and some others). He may have just been adhering to a set of principles only he understood.
I think these contradictions exist in songwriting and performance. One part of you tries to reject the boundaries of confinement and control and there’s another part of performance and songwriting where you find yourself premeditating on the listeners’ experience and trying to control a reaction. Does everyone do this? Is this an unavoidable consequence of creation? Maybe artistic creation has a cycle with different stages—actual creation of work, performance/showing, celebration, defense…
See FaceMan perform with Rubedo for free this Friday evening, July 6, in the Clyfford Still Museum’s forecourt. We will continue to visit with FaceMan and other musicians featured this summer, sharing their thoughts and reactions to the Museum and its collections. Stay tuned!