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COURTESY MARLBOROUGH GALLERY, INC.
Although Still exhibited his paintings infrequently—not at all from 1951 to 1959—and rarely through dealers, he agreed to an exhibition of his works, including 1956H (above), at the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery in New York in 1969.


the implications of this work or its power for life;—or for death, if it is misused."

Still's importance to American painting is unquestioned. In his 1955 (revised 1958) article "'American Type' Painting," critic Clement Greenberg wrote that in the mid-'40s "Clyfford Still emerged as one of the original and important painters of our time—and perhaps as more original, if not more important, than any other in his generation. His paintings were the first serious abstract pictures I ever saw that were almost altogether devoid of decipherable references to Cubism; next to them, Kandinsky's early filiations with Analytical Cubism became more apparent than ever....

"But what is most important about Still, aside from his quality, is that he shows abstract painting a way beyond Late Cubism that can be taken, as Pollock's cannot, by other artists. Still is the only 'abstract expressionist' to have founded a school, by which I mean that at least two of the many painters he has stimulated and influenced [Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko] have not lost their independence thereby."

Just as Still's importance is unquestioned, so is his difficult demeanor. "His personality was such that he often antagonized people," says Edward Dugmore, a friend of Still's for many years, who had studied with him in the late '40s at the California School of Fine Arts. According to Dugmore, he and Still had a falling out in the late '50s or early '60s, but he never considered their friendship over. "He was a powerful guy," Dugmore says, "and a man who was strong enough to see that the only way that things would work out for him was to do exactly what he wanted, as he did, and make a number of enemies, if that's what it took, and some friends. And he had a lot of good friends. Even when we broke off, I was still a good friend. The point is he needed his way of life."

Dugmore says Still was emphatic about being understood clearly, so emphatic that after their spending a day together Still would call Dugmore in the evening to restate or clarify what he had said earlier. Dugmore also says that Still felt excluded from the art world. "He was left out of a lot of things," Dugmore says, citing magazine articles on Abstract Expressionism as an example.

"I've seen and read many of his letters, and he read some to me," Dugmore says. "He had a rapier wit and a shrewd and brilliant intellect, and the letters were startling. They were his way of saying, 'I refuse to be ignored as a painter.' His whole life struggle for survival was turbulent and mercurial, and I understood. He did not want to be brushed aside and refused to be left out of history. Every artist has his own way of developing his stance in the art world—let's put it that way. He had a very strong character and he made his points."

Alfonso Ossorio, the artist and writer, who was a friend of Still's for a number of years, recalls that Still's early life had been, in many ways, difficult. Still's family had not been successful, he says, and "certainly his years teaching in state colleges and universities out west couldn't have been much fun—seeing the academic grab bag, the scheming, the career making from the inside."

Yet Still himself was difficult. According to a number of sources, he identified closely with his art. When it was attacked or not appreciated as he felt it should be, he could become hostile. In general, he scorned people in positions of authority regarding his paintings, as well as those who stood to profit from them. And, Ossorio says, Still had his reasons. When he had a small studio in New York in the '50s, Ossorio recalls, Still required a month's notice before he would show his work. This furthered his reputation for being difficult, but Ossorio points out that each time a collector or curator wanted to see Still's work in the studio, the artist had to let what he was working on dry, roll it up and then unroll the canvases people wanted to see. "And then he'd have a couple of collectors come down after a three-martini lunch," Ossorio says, "and look with varying degrees of what Still would think of, often rightly, as 'giggling incomprehension,' and leave. It left a bad taste in his mouth, and he got tired of it."

Ossorio adds, "Artists are still being taken advantage of. Who supplies all these museums, all these acres of walls, with a constant rotation of free material to be put up on them? And then if you're lucky, your number comes up. But that's an endemic situation, and Still took it to heart; he took it personally."

Still felt that most museums were "comfort stations" for people not seriously interested in art and described them as "supermarkets" where visitors could view a few works by a great number of artists without understanding any of them. Therefore, he often demanded that his paintings be grouped together and shown independent of the work of other artists -

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