Five years ago this month, The Clyfford Still Museum opened its doors to Denver, re-introducing this significant but hidden artist to Denver and the world. I had no idea how profoundly this museum and this painter would influence my artistic life.
I’ll never forget pulling open those heavy, vault-like front doors on opening day. It felt like entering King Tut’s tomb. Then, walking up the stairs to be surrounded by the quiet space that enveloped Still’s big, bold, vivid canvases. The feeling was magical and awe-inspiring. The amazing thing is that, five years later, I still feel the same way.
That first year, I participated in every program I could, continually being fed by the intelligent lectures and innovative programming that began to unfold Still’s story to the modern public. I then began to volunteer. I first started by working in the galleries and at events, meeting people from all over the world that were as inspired as I was by this world-class museum. Now, I spend my time volunteering behind the scenes, having the privilege of seeing every piece of work, albeit digitally, that Still ever made, while I help complete a paper inventory of Still’s work. My initial awe has grown into deep and profound appreciation for the vision that both Clyfford Still and the Clyfford Still Museum have brought to Denver and the world. I have been able to soak in the life and artwork of Clyfford Still over these five years. As an artist, it has been invaluable to see his evolution as an artist. I have learned so much.
1. I have learned the power of work. I see first hand the value of creating a steady, consistent, and prolific body of work. Still made paintings and drawings from the time he was a teenager to his death, and did not stop during some of the most difficult times in American history-the Great Depression and World War II. In fact, he used these moments to fuel his investigations towards abstraction.
2. I learned the power of approaching art as a scientist. Still made it his life’s work to break through the barriers of the picture plane and the history of art in order to create a new language to express a new age. His mission moved beyond creating pleasing pictures. He created a revolution of the spirit.
3. I learned the importance of playing the long game. Still came to see every painting or drawing he made as part of an entire body. He saw that his work was more valuable when seen as a whole. This view ultimately led him to write his now famous will-explicitly gifting his work (95% of which was still in his possession at the time of his death) to an American city willing to house and display his work in perpetuity for the public to view and study. Because he understood the long view, he was able to step back and make difficult decisions during his lifetime that guarded his work, honored his creative voice, and laid the ground-work for the creation of the Clyfford Still Museum, ensuring future generations to learn from what he created.
4. I learned the power of being in charge of your own artistic career, even if it means going against expectations or short-term recognition. Still is probably most known for his decision to leave the art world in the early 1950s as every other Abstract Expressionist painter was growing in their fame and recognition. He understood how to sustain his creative life and listen to his own artistic voice, and consistently made decisions to protect and invest in that creative voice.
5. I learned the power and importance of a well-run institution. The Clyfford Still Museum, with Dean Sobel at the helm, has run the museum with leadership, grace, and a desire to connect with the public in an authentic and inspiring way. This has allowed me to learn and grow as a person and a painter. It has been a joy to be involved from day one with such an outstanding institution.
Thank you, Clyfford Still and the Clyfford Still Museum! You have changed my life.
The Clyfford Still Museum continues to surprise and delight. They have a full line-up of FREE programming Friday, November 18th through Sunday, November 20th, 2016 to celebrate these five years. All are welcome.
I highly encourage you to visit or become more involved with this world-class museum.