The Uncompromising Clyfford Still

February 25, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

At moments, I found myself smiling, almost laughing out loud at the genius of Clyfford Stills' paintings. Standing in front of some of the greatest works of the Abstract Expressionist movement was simply wondrous. These were a tutorial in non-verbal communication. He could, with a single dab of color in precisely the right place, make an entire canvas balance perfectly. If you blocked it with your hand, the arrangement in frame became something far less.

The Clyfford Still Museum, in Denver, is a unique venue in which a single artist's complete works are presented in a purpose-built gallery, and chronical his artistic development to the brilliance that became the driving force in Abstract Expressionism. His friends/colleagues were the marquee names of the era, and he was, many times, their collective conscience. He was uncompromising in his work, steadfast in his commitment to never bending to outside influences or opportunities. The power of his work is the testament.

We, in photography, take frequent inspiration from the painting world and especially in abstracts. Abstract Expressionism has influenced many an abstract photograph, and that is not entirely a bad thing. But, when standing in front of Still's works, I found myself saying that I must do better. Take inspiration? Yes. Imitate? Impossible.

To become a better photographer, simply stand in front of great works and learn. Ask why that color was chosen, why it is there and not over here, why that shape, why that texture, why that obvious dab on the edge or in the upper corner. Explore and they will tell you!


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