The first guest on this week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast is one of the world’s top abstract expressionism scholars: David Anfam. In recent years Anfam has been working with the new Clyfford Still Museum on its collections and installations. He is also the author of the catalogue raisonnes of Mark Rothko’s paintings and Conrad Marca-Relli.
One of the revelations of Anfam’s work for the Still Museum is how important the figure was to Still’s transition from a representational painter, to the famed abstract expressionist maker of ‘scything canyons.’ The semi-discovery — some of Still’s representational canvases were known before the CSM opened, but not many — opened up new ways to understand Still’s influences, including that of both Millet and van Gogh.
Still was typically a painter who scoffed at the idea of influence — he seems to have thought he was born as he became — but there’s plenty of Millet and van Gogh in this 1936 painting, PH-77 (detail). In a related story, Still grew up on a farm in the northern Plains.
The CSM is currently showing selections from its collection alongside “Vincent/Clyfford,” an installation that demonstrates how Still looked closely at van Gogh. The museum has also just published “Clyfford Still: The Artist’s Museum,” which features a major essay by Anfam on Still’s life and work. (Amazon offers the book for $25 off.)
Image: Clyfford Still, PH-77(detail), 1936. Collection of the Clyfford Still Museum, Denver.