A detail of Clyfford Still’s 1957-J No. 2. The entire painting measures nine by 13 feet.
What if a landscape painter tried to depict, instead of valleys and mountains, the contours of his soul? That was the goal of Clyfford Still (1904–1980), whose art fills a rich new museum in downtown Denver. Although his abstractions can suggest craggy terrain, Still once said, “I paint only myself, not nature.” His stark work turned heads in the 1940s at the birth of the movement dubbed abstract expressionism. His 1944-N No. 1—black with jagged bolts of color—preceded Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings by three years.
“Still was absolutely the equal of Pollock, de Kooning, and Rothko,” says Dean Sobel, the museum’s director. But Still’s light dimmed as he severed ties with galleries in the early 1950s and withdrew into near seclusion. His 2,400-piece estate, donated to the city of Denver, comprises 94 percent of his work, most of it never shown.
“This is the most important new museum of my generation,” says Sobel, 51. The 28,500-square-foot museum abuts the Hamilton Building of the Denver Art Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind. (720) 865-4317, clyffordstillmuseum.org.
Photography courtesy of Clyfford Still Estate
This article was first published in January 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.