Clyfford Still: Newly Revealed

Clyfford Still, PH-672, 1923, oil on canvas, 18 x 15 1/2 inches (Photo: Ben Blac
Clyfford Still, PH-672, 1923, oil on canvas, 18 x 15 1/2 inches (Photo: Ben Blackwell, courtesy of the Clyfford Still Museum © Clyfford Still Estate)

Ken Carpenter considers three areas of the ongoing re-evaluation of the work of Clyfford Still: Still's relation to art history, which period of Still's work represents the pinnacle of his achievement, and new insights into the creative sources that underpin Still's oeuvre.

Carpenter weighs in on this last question, noting that "The Clyfford Still Museum website observes that apparently Still’s 'father once… tied a rope around Clyfford’s ankles and lowered him headfirst into a newly built well to assess its status.' Still referred to that rope as his lifeline. Still also told San Francisco Museum of Modern Art director Henry Hopkins that his father would occasionally 'drop him down a well as a sort of punishment.' In my view Still’s experiences with his father’s well, as dark and frightening as they must have been, are a valuable clue for understanding the impetus behind Still’s art. The classical theoretical text is by British aesthetician Edward Bullough, who argued that the making of art always involved a cathartic 'detachment' from intensely personal experience. Similar ideas can be found in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Walter Pater, Benedetto Croce, and others. We should not be surprised then, that many of the best Stills can feel closed in, have dark and earthen tones, and are marked by that ubiquitous 'lifeline,' and yet suggest a transcending power and vitality that is lacking in the clearly under-distanced, near-despairing work of the mid-1930s"