REPEAT/RECREATE: Clyfford Still’s “Replicas” at the Clyfford Still Museum, Denver

I’ll freely admit that I had a religious experience on viewing REPEAT/RECREATE: Clyfford Still’s “Replicas” at Denver’s Clyfford Still Museum. It’s unusual to get inside an artist’s head but every now and then an exhibition does just that, and this is one of those shows.

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Left: PH-1074, 1956-59 (1956-J-No.2) Right: PH-225, 1956 (1956-J-No.2)

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PH-225, 1956 (1956-J-No.2), Oil on canvas, 115″ x 104 3/4″

Collection of Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Museum purchase, The Benjamin J. Tillar Memorial Trust

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PH-1074, 1956-59 (1956-J-No.2), Oil on canvas, 117″ x 108″

Clyfford Still Museum

The Clyfford Still Museum is unique among world museums in that it houses the work of a single artist and it’s holdings comprise 94% of Still’s creative output including his archive of personal effects and correspondence. Still who said, “My painting is a life statement, not an autobiography,” was notoriously prickly about how his work was viewed and eschewed wall cards and any explanation of the work itself, preferring that the viewer find their way into the work on their own. REPEAT/RECREATE is a fascinating window into the artist’s thought process and how subtle shifts in scale, texture and color can influence one’s perception of what is, at first glance, a similar image.

What is unique about this exhibition, and what I found particularly moving,  is that it illustrates what many working artists experience in their creative practice; the constant investigation and questioning that takes place on a daily basis in the studio. Still made “replicas” of more than 50 works. These were not copies but in depth “re-explorations”. In some instances a similar composition was kept but the chromology was radically re-imagined. In most cases though there were more subtle changes; shifts in medium, shifts in application of paint, shifts in texture, shifts in the play of light across the paint surface through the manipulation of the reflective properties of the paint. All of these re-imaginings profoundly effect the viewer’s perception of the composition.

“Although the few replicas I make are usually close to or extensions of the original, each has its special and particular life and is not intended to be just a copy. The present work clarified certain factors and, paradoxically in this instance, was closer to my original concept than the first painitng, which bore the ambivalences of struggle.”

More information about the Clyfford Still Museum and it’s extraordinary collection can be found on their website.

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PH-855, 1928-29, Oil on canvas, 34 1/4″ x 44 1/2″

Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of International Business Machines Corporation

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PH-422, 1929, Oil on canvas, 23 1/2″ x 31″

Clyfford Still Museum

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PH-938, 1937/39 (?) (Study in Line; 1937-No 1), Oil on canvas, 51″ x 34″

Lent by Sara & Edward Germain in memory of Ashley & Alysse Weeks

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PH-553, 1937 (1937-No-2), Oil on canvas, 56 1/2″ x 36 1/2″

Clyfford Still Museum

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PH-938, 1937/39 (?) (Study in Line; 1937-No 1) Detail

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PH-553, 1937 (1937-No-2) Detail

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PL-21, 1943, Lithograph, 16 5/8″ x 12 1/2″

Clyfford Still Museum

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Left: PH-244, 1953 (1953-No.1), Oil on Canvas, 108 1/2″ x 91 1/2″

Right: PHX-27, undated, Oil on Canvas, 114 1/2″ x 104 1/2″

Clyfford Still Museum

What’s interesting about these two images, it’s difficult to see in the photographs, is the application of paint. In the painting on the left the paint is applied almost vertically from top to bottom and in the painting on the right the paint is applied in a sweeping pattern. From across the room the paintings feel similar, but when the viewer gets closer their emotional impact shifts because you become aware of the textural gesture of the paint and the energy of the paint surface.

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PH-244, 1953 (1953-No.1) Detail

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PHX-27, undated, Detail

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Left: PH-1111, 1952, Oil on Canvas, 91″ x 69 3/8″       Right: PP-135, 1956, Pastel on Paper, 13 3/4″ x 11″

PH-816, 1951 (1951-No.2/3?), Oil on canvas, 46 3/4″ x 38″

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Bequest of Caroline Wiess Law

This is another interesting example of how the medium influences the “feeling” of the work. The painting on the left has an almost muscular paint surface, with thick grainy applications of paint, and the image on the right is a very soft pastel. The powdery surface completely changes the way the work feels. Same composition, same colors, but very different feeling as a viewer from these two works.

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Left: PH-89, 1949 (1949-A-No.1)   Right: PH-177, 1949 (1949-A-No.2)

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PH-89, 1949 (1949-A-No.1), Oil on canvas, 93″ x 79″, Private Collection

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PH-177, 1949 (1949-A-No.2), Oil on canvas, 80″ x 68 1/2″, Glenstone

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PH-89, 1949 (1949-A-No.1) Detail

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PH-177, 1949 (1949-A-No.2) Detail

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Left: PH-235, 1944 (1944-N-No.1) Right: PH-671 (1944-N-No.2;Red Flash on Black Field)

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PH-235, 1944 (1944-N-No.1), Oil on Canvas, 105″ x 92 1/2″

Clyfford Still Museum

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PH-671 (1944-N-No.2;Red Flash on Black Field), Oil on canvas, 104 1/4″ x 87 1/4″

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Sydney and Harriet Janis Collection, 1967

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Left: PH-813-(1951-T-No.2) Center: PH-814 (1951-T-No.3) Right: PH-812, 1951 (1951-T-No.1)

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PH-813-(1951-T-No.2), Oil on canvas, 93 1/4″ x 75 3/4″, Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase

W. Hawkins Ferry Fund

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PH-814 (1951-T-No.3), Oil on canvas, 94″ x 82″

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Blanchette Hooker Rockerfeller Fund, 1954

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PH-812, 1951 (1951-T-No.1), Oil on canvas, 115″ x 104″

Clyfford Still Museum

What’s interesting about this image is that the painting is labeled No.1 but this is indeed the fourth “replica” of this painting. The first was destroyed by the artist. Versions 2 and 3 are in correct order.

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