“You can turn the lights out. The paintings will carry their own fire.” –Clyfford Still
In anticipation of my long-awaited sojourn to the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado, I began reading and thinking about Still’s work: putting myself into the mind of the artist to create a garment inspired by his paintings. I could count on one hand the number of Still’s paintings I’d seen in person, and could only imagine the quiet power of a building dedicated entirely to his life’s work.
Still (1904-1980) was a contemporary of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, but unlike other artists, he eschewed the market for his work. When he passed away in 1980, his estate included 95% of his oeuvre, most canvases shielded from the public for decades, until the Still Museum opened in 2011.
When I anxiously opened the doors to the museum, I experienced an overwhelming sense of calm. It is a quiet, reflective space, with soft light and nuanced architectural details that perfectly coexist with the selections of the nearly 3,000 works in its collection that are on display.
Wearing my handpainted dress inspired by Still’s artwork, I experienced a heightened sense of awareness and understanding of the connection between the works and the sublime. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of being surrounded by Still’s paintings – on the walls around me, and on my body. Sensing the works’ symbolism of the human condition; feeling and knowing the process of creating the works of art; understanding their conservation and relation to the history of art in America and the world; the entire process awakened in me a deeper understanding of the personal impact of painting.
I made a number of friends at the museum – including a security guard who, with a wink, remarked “that would be a great way to sneak a painting out of the museum.”
I didn’t physically take a painting from the museum that day, but I feel as though I took away my own personal collection, along with a greater sense of appreciation for Still’s work. Along with that, I refueled my desire to create, in order to achieve the higher level of enlightenment that so many have experienced through the quiet reverie of the work of Clyfford Still.
Dress: thrifted, painted by me
Sandals: Frye Brielle Gladiator (available here)
Photos by William Sealy