The ancestor of abstruse expressionism, one of the best important of all American art movements, lived in Spokane and Pullman for bisected his life. And if that sounds unlikely, here’s article alike added unlikely: Hardly anybody in Spokane knows it.
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His name was Clyfford Still and one of his paintings afresh awash for $21 million.
He may not be a domiciliary name like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, with whom he is generally compared, but he’s allegorical in the art world.
Most bodies are blind of his Inland Northwest roots. Administrator Sobel, the administrator of the accessible Clyfford Still Building in Denver, put it this way: “Probably you and 10 others may apperceive about it.”
And we wouldn’t apperceive about it either, if it weren’t for “Antiques Roadshow.”
More on that later. First, the arresting facts about Clyfford Still:
• He was built-in in 1904 and spent best of the aboriginal 30 years of his activity in Spokane and again addition six or seven years in Pullman, area he taught.
• He went on to San Francisco and New York, area he, forth with Rothko and Pollock, helped ad-lib an abstruse appearance that swept the apple in the 1950s. Pollock already said, “Still makes the blow of us attending academic.”
• He was angry and publicity-averse, rarely announcement his assignment or talking about his activity – and never about his Spokane roots.
• He died in 1980, hailed by art analyzer Robert Hughes as a “mythic” amount in American art.
Yet the Northwest has never accepted him as a built-in son, allegedly because the Northwest was almost acquainted of it.
Then, on Jan. 5, accessible television’s “Antiques Roadshow” aired an adventure from Palm Springs in which a woman brought in a 1937 painting by Still. The art adjudicator said that this Grand Coulee Dam architecture arena was corrective while Still was teaching at Washington State College (now Washington State University), “near Spokane, area he grew up and studied.”
The appraiser, Alasdair Nichol, went on to alarm it “the best agitative find” he had apparent in all of his years on the show. Again he acquainted it at $500,000 – acceptance that he was actuality “rather conservative,” because that one of Still’s after abstruse paintings awash for $21 million.
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Nichol was bigger abreast than best about Still’s background. Alike some art advisers are alone dimly acquainted of the man’s Washington roots. That’s because Still finer adjourned his Spokane and Pullman years appropriate out of his resume, preferring the apple to accept that he sprang anon assimilate the San Francisco and New York art scenes at about age 40.
Still was built-in in Grandin, N.D., on Nov. 30, 1904. His ancestors came to Spokane in 1905. They additionally had a acreage abreast Bow Island, Alberta, so they breach their time amid Spokane and Canada. Still generally went to Alberta in the summers to advice in the aureate fields.
Around 1926, he enrolled in the now-defunct Spokane University, in the Spokane Valley. He was decidedly captivated in his art classes.
“Clyfford Still came and went mysteriously,” addition Spokane artist, Vivian Stuart Pendell, said in one of the alone bounded acceptance anytime accounting about him, a 1980 Spokane Annual allotment by Allegra Askman.
“He was tall, intense, dark-eyed, with a shock of atramentous hair. He had appropriate absorption from Miss Maude Sutton, the administrator of accomplished arts at Spokane University; he acclimated to appear in on Saturdays and go to a abandoned allotment of the painting studio.”
Still’s aphotic attitude emerged alike in his ancient work. Addition adolescent student, Robert Sandberg, quoted in the Spokane Annual story, remembered that Still was decumbent to acrylic amaranthine aureate fields with abundant clouds aloft and sometimes a aphotic and absorption amount in the foreground.
“This aforementioned affection of amaranthine anguish seems to accept been allotment of Still throughout his life,” said Sandberg. “Humor absolutely was not allotment of it.”
Pendell remembered Sutton counseling Still back he was allegedly beneath burden from his ancestors to be a aureate farmer. She remembers Sutton saying, “The aureate in Canada isn’t abased on you. You accept a appropriate aptitude and you owe it to yourself to accompany it.”
And so he did. He accelerating from Spokane University and went to Washington State College on a teaching acquaintance in 1933. He becoming his master’s amount in art and was assassin as a professor.
Sometime during this period, he affiliated and had two daughters. He backward at Washington State until 1940.
“He spent a abundant accord of time painting the bodies and scenes of Nespelem and the Colville Reservation and Grand Coulee Dam, which was beneath construction,” said the Still Museum’s Sobel.
He additionally had his aboriginal one-man exhibition in 1939 at the Spokane Art Center, a Works Progress Administration facility.
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Still’s administration at Washington State was sometimes stormy. He sparked some altercation by accepting partially nude apprentice models in his class. Yet one above apprentice was quoted by Spokane Annual as adage he had “good affinity with the acceptance and was accessible to allocution to,” admitting not actuality an “enthusiastic lecturer.”
“And one affair he didn’t do was try to get you to accurate yourself in his style,” said the student.
Still believed that artists should accurate themselves in their own way – and he took that abstraction to an acute in his own life. Here’s how he declared his aesthetic ambition during those Pullman years: “To kill and betrayal the applause of (all influences) on the brand of my identity.”
He larboard for the Bay Area, formed as a wartime shipyard crane abettor and again accomplished at the California School of Accomplished Arts. It was there that he aesthetic his new, absolutely abstruse style, which owed annihilation to European styles. In fact, it owed little to the prevailing New York styles.
“What’s different about Still … is that his art develops absolutely apart in Washington State,” said Sobel. “One could aspect that to his personality, to his aesthetic temperament, but one could additionally aspect it to the actuality that he’s affectionate of from the average of boilerplate from an art apple angle – and that’s a acceptable thing.”
By 1945, he had met Rothko, who alien him to Peggy Guggenheim in New York. She gave him his own arcade show, which artisan Robert Motherwell alleged “a bolt out of the blue.” Still had several added groundbreaking arcade shows in the 1940s.
“Rothko, in abounding of his writings, singles out Still as accepting a huge development on the appulse of Rothko’s work,” said Sobel.
If Pollock, Rothko and Motherwell advised him an innovator, why didn’t he become as acclaimed as they did?
The acknowledgment lies in Still’s annoying personality and his absolutely appropriate admission to art.
“Still drops out of the art apple back he moves to New York,” said Sobel. “So in the aboriginal 1950s, he has already removed himself from the boilerplate of galleries and museums and exhibits.”
He connected to acrylic all of his life, but alone rarely accustomed his assignment to be displayed or exhibited. He gave no titles to his paintings, in the acceptance that bodies would again attack to “interpret” them in agency he deplored.
He consistently issued denunciations of critics, dealers and adolescent artists. He banned to acquiesce his art to be apparent in the aforementioned allowance with any added artist. In 1969, ARTnews annual alleged him “Mr. Outside himself.”
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“He was one of the best angry of all artists,” said Ben Mitchell, art babysitter at the Northwest Building of Arts and Culture. “And that’s a appealing big club.”
“Ultimately, what it boils bottomward to is that he aloof capital to do it his way,” said Sobel.
Still believed his art was best apparent beneath assertive conditions, which meant after the aberration of any added artist’s work.
That bound his visibility, yet he was by no agency ignored. He accustomed the San Francisco Building of Modern Art to accessible a abiding accession of his works in 1975, and New York’s Metropolitan Building of Art gave him an exhibition in 1980, aloof afore his death.
Then, back he died abreast his Maryland farm, his additional wife “seals it all up,” said Sobel. After that hardly anybody saw his paintings, had admission to his belletrist or acquired reproduction rights.
“So that’s why he’s not a domiciliary name,” said Sobel. “… I get appealing angry about this, because it’s a abomination what has happened to this man.”
His will consisted of a distinct sentence, stipulating that all of his works (95 percent of which he had retained) be accustomed to “an American burghal that will accede to body or accredit and advance abiding abode alone for these works of art.”
In added words, he would accord them to any burghal that would accede to body a building adherent alone to him.
In 2003, Denver agreed to do aloof that. The Clyfford Still Building is in the final stages of architecture and is appointed to accessible in backward 2010.
For the aboriginal time, the apple will see abounding of Still’s paintings from Spokane and Pullman. Sobel thinks that these works are “exceptionally important” and will atom renewed absorption in Still’s aboriginal life.
Sobel said these aboriginal paintings are acceptable in some ways, depicting accepted Depression-era capacity such as acreage workers. But his analysis of those capacity is “exceptionally expressionistic,” acceptation he does not await on a absolute recording of what the eye sees.
“Still isn’t absorbed in the physical, exoteric realm, but abundant added absorbed in the animosity and body and close admiral and strength,” said Sobel. “How do you characterize that? Not through astute art, but through abstruse art.”
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This abstraction would not absolutely complete in Still’s art for addition decade. Yet if you attending carefully at those aboriginal Still works, you ability see the seeds of a abundant common art movement, beginning in the art studios and classrooms of the Inland Northwest.
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