Clyfford Still (November 30, 1904 – June 23, 1980) was an American artist, a painter, and one of the leading figures in Abstract Expressionism.
Still was born in Grandin, North Dakota. In the late 1920s and early 1930s he studied at Spokane University in Washington, graduating in art in 1933. He taught at the Spokane Art Center, a Federal Art Project during the Great Depression; and at Washington State University. Along with Worth Griffin, Still co-founded the Nespelem Art Colony in 1937 that produced hundreds of portraits and landscapes depicting Colville Indian Reservation Native American life over the course of four summers.
After working in California from 1941 to 1943, Still's first solo exhibition came in 1943 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It was only a few years later, however, after he had met Mark Rothko and had a solo show hosted by Peggy Guggenheim, that he developed the style for which he is now best known. In 1946 he took a job at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, but moved back to New York City in 1950. A retrospective of his work was shown in Buffalo, New York before he moved once more in 1961, this time to a farm near Westminster, Maryland, where he remained for most of the rest of his life, largely cut-off from the rest of the art-world.
Still was one of the foremost "color field" painters - his paintings are non-figurative, and largely concerned with juxtaposing different colours in a variety of formations. However, while Mark Rothko or Barnett Newman organized their colours in a relatively simple way (Rothko in the form of nebulous rectangles, Newman in thin lines on vast fields of colour), Still's arrangements are less regular. His jagged flashes of colour give the impression that one layer of colour has been "torn" off the painting, revealing the colours underneath. Another point of departure with Newman and Rothko is the way the paint is laid on the canvas: while Rothko and Newman used fairly flat colours and relatively thin paint, Still uses a thick impasto, causing subtle variety in shade across the painting.
Among Still's better known paintings is 1957-D No. 1 (1957) which is mainly black and yellow with patches of white and a small amount of red. These four colors, and variations on them (purples, dark blues) are predominant in his work, and there is a tendency for his paintings to use darker shades.
Still was very particular about the way his works should be shown. Following the positive reception of the Buffalo retrospective in 1959, he donated 31 paintings to the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy on the condition that they must be shown permanently in their own room, never to be loaned out. Around 750 paintings and around 1500 works on paper have been held in storage in Maryland since his death owing to a stipulation in his will that they may only be shown in a gallery built to his own specifications and under his own terms. There are currently a number of his works on view at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York; and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Shortly before his death, a retrospective of his work was held at the Met in New York City. Still died in 1980 in Baltimore, Maryland.
In August 2004, the City of Denver announced it had been chosen to receive the artworks contained within the Clyfford Still Estate. This highly sought-after body of work contains over 2,150 artworks representing all periods of the American artist's distinguished career and nearly 90% of the artist's total output.
Removed from public view for over twenty-five years, these works will finally be revealed at the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado, planned to open to the public in 2010.