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The Intersection of Science, Art, Music & Humanities

Clifford Still & the City of Denver

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Art is a force for life, not death, It's a matter of joy.   

?—Clyfford Still 

Today's Sunday Morning Stop at the Intersection of Science, Art, Music and Humanities honors Clyfford Still, the first artist to break through to a new and radically abstract painting style devoid of obvious subject matter in the mid-1940s. The movement blended elements of surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style that spoke to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.

Although Still was primarily known as a New York artist, he disliked the notion that he was part of any school or movement and remained a self-styled outsider his entire life, including during his years of influential teaching at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) in the mid- to late 1940s. 


He influenced the movement to non-representational art by abstract expressionist contemporaries including Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Richard Diebenkorn, and Nathan Oliveira. 

Still’s paintings employed fields of color to evoke dramatic conflicts between man and nature, often taking place on a monumental scale. He once said of his work:

These are not paintings in the usual sense; they are life and death emerging in fearful union. As for me, they kindle a fire; through them I breathe again, hold a golden cord, and find my own revelation. 


His overriding theme was the existential struggle of the human spirit against the forces of nature, a notion that finds expression in forms that reach defiantly through the majority of his compositions, and a struggle he evoked in his phrase, “the vertical necessity of life that suggests infinite extension.”  

Still also suggested many times that people generally find almost anything easier to deal with than stark confrontation with a work of art on the terms which governed its creation. They rather surround art with interpretation, analysis, and a host of other elaborations which have become part of a gigantic verbal superstructure designed to make art more comfortable—and profitable. 

According to a 1976 ARTNEWS article, "Within the framework of this superstructure, Clyfford Still's paintings have been generally misunderstood and his attitude has been considered arrogant." 

He was a notoriously difficult character who eventually shunned the New York art world, resisted most critiques of his work, and went to exceptional lengths to control how his paintings were sold, collected, and exhibited.

Clyfford Still proved to be one of modern art’s greatest innovators, who ignited a powerful movement, then chose integrity and principles over celebrity and fortune—qualities rarely seen today.

He severed ties with all commercial galleries and moved to a Maryland farm in 1961, remaining there until his death in 1980. 

All of his work that had not entered the public domain was then sealed off from both public and scholarly view, closing off access to one of the most significant American painters of the 20th century. 


His will had stipulated that his estate be given away in its entirety to an American city willing to establish a permanent museum dedicated solely to his work, ensuring its survival for exhibition and study.

The individual paintings are important, but the most important thing is a man's life works. It's the idea behind them that counts. 

 —Clyfford Still

Enter Denver, Colorado


Under the leadership of then-Mayor John W. Hickenlooper, Denver was selected by Still’s wife Patricia to receive the substantial Still collection in 2004. In 2005, Patricia also bequeathed her own estate, which included select paintings by Still, as well as his archives, to the city of Denver.

The Still Museum collection, now represents 95 percent of the artist’s lifetime output, including 3,125 works created between 1920 and 1980.

It’s the latest addition to Denver’s burgeoning Cultural Arts District, just adjacent to the Denver Art Museum in the Civic Center Cultural Complex, again proving that Denver has become an exceptional center for the arts.

We hope our readers to take time to visit the Clyfford Still Museum website and plan to visit the museum in person. It’s a monumental tribute to artistic integrity, scholarship, generosity, and the ever- growing Colorado support for the arts.

Enjoy the day.

Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, David Amess and the Biosyntrx staff 


Biosyntrx strongly believes that appreciation, exploration and commitment to science, art, music and humanities add significantly to the global greater good and are important parts of the intellectual whole.