In celebration of its fifth anniversary year, the Clyfford Still Museum presents Clyfford Still: The Works on Paper, the first-ever exhibition of Still’s drawings, and the largest exhibition of Still’s work at the Museum to date. The exhibition, on view October 14, 2016–January 15, 2017, features more than 240 works, shedding new light on this integral but historically overlooked part of Still’s creative process. Arranged chronologically, the exhibition reveals the centrality of drawing to Still’s practice and offer an intimate look at the evolution of his style from figuration to fully realized abstractions.
In addition to offering a chronological study of Still’s works, the exhibition offers an in-depth exploration of works in many different media, the majority of which have never before been on public view. Among the exhibition highlights is a significant group of oil-on-paper compositions made between 1943 and 1944, selections from the more than 1,200 pastels that Still created in the final 10 years of his life, and a series of figurative portraits and landscapes—many featuring Still and his family—created in the mid-1920s. The exhibition also draws on the extensive Clyfford Still Archives housed at the Museum, featuring items such as technical studies made by Still while working in the San Francisco Bay Area shipyards during the onset of World War II and various sketches and notations that seem to lay out the abstract forms of his later work. The exhibition concludes with the artist’s final dated and signed work, a pastel-on-paper composition created in 1980.
“Five years into our deep dive into the creative process behind Still’s revolutionary work, this exhibition reveals more about this mysterious artist than anyone could have considered possible when we opened,” says director and exhibition co-curator Dean Sobel. Senior Consulting Curator David Anfam adds, “Still’s works on paper constitute a vast template and laboratory for the mechanics of Still’s art as a whole. Famously, drawing reveals an artist’s proficiency in a way that painting, with its more seductive materiality, can readily disguise.”
Despite the fact that Clyfford Still drew prolifically throughout his career, historically it has been next to impossible to view Still’s works on paper; only seven are known to exist in public collections outside Denver. The variety and sheer volume of Still’s drawings—more than 2,300 works in Denver’s collection housed at the Museum, compared with approximately 830 paintings—attest to the significant role that draftsmanship played in his work, particularly when compared to his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries. Still explored graphite, charcoal, pastel, crayon, pen and ink, oil paint, gouache, and tempera, as well as lithography, etching, woodcut, and silkscreen. In some cases, paintings—including such breakthrough canvases as Still’s PH-235 (1944-N-No. 1), widely considered to be the first mature iteration of Abstract Expressionism—grew directly out of sketches or more finished drawings. On the other hand, many works are fully realized pieces in themselves rather than preparatory steps.
Clyfford Still: The Works on Paper is curated by CSM Director Dean Sobel, Senior Consulting Curator David Anfam, and Bailey Harberg Placzek, assistant curator and collections manager.
Clyfford Still Museum - Clyfford Still: The Works on Paper - 14.10.2016 - 15.01.2017