Colorado Denver Metropolitan Museums Painting

Clyfford Still Painting

A Daughter’s Eye/A Daughter’s Voice –

Sep 14, 2018–Jan 13, 2019 –

Several galleries of the Clyfford Still Museum have been curated by Still’s daughter Sandra and are part of the current exhibition which will run through January.

I walk into the middle of it and into the middle of a performance the museum calls ‘one painting at a time’. A guy with a hat is calling out lines in Jack Kerouac fashion, striding in place next to a giant painting that is standing on a wheeled cart. Call me daft, but I then figure out this is the one painting, and the hatted guy is a poet who is taking a turn talking about it.

‘The blue choose me,’ he said and I knew the blue he was talking about. It was a pure and powerful color manipulated by a palette knife onto the raw canvas which shown through the pigment slightly in varying degrees. The painting was sparse. The main forms applied in black paint, some small yellow, even smaller red forms and then two and a little bit more thin organically drawn vertical lines. One lighter blue through the blue form. Blue on blue.

Easily, I can talk about how it was done when I talk about art, but I’ve been struggling with ‘how it was said’ when I’m thinking of a poem. I continually go to ‘what is being said,’ the content. And then I hear the form of the poem being spoken. The present poet reads a few long lines to set up the rhythm, then breaks, breaks, breaks from it. He takes an idea, riffs on it to start the next passage. The rhythm rolls and this time he does a bing bang, bing bang, or a bang, bang, bang.

Later, one of the gallery hosts (guards) tells me she sees the same painting as musical. She reads it across the 8-or-more feet of canvas. I tend to think of a painting as in one time, not read across like a line of poetry. But I can see, still in my form detecting mode, that there is a mark, a break, mark, mark, mark, and break, and a long hold.

I once heard a player piano play the Mallermé poem, Un coup de Dés, coded into the perforations of its music roll – a letter a note and lots of white space. Pure form, no content. Until now, I hadn’t realized how this could help me read the poem. I wish I’d known the text before I heard it played. But then, I would have been bringing in content wouldn’t I? Abstract Expressionism – Still’s form of painting – is probably how I learned to do form and ignore content in visual art because there is no content, purposely.

The hatted poet did more than scat; he described content. He invented some String Theory and imagined dimensions into the painting that our mortal eyes cannot see. He said sometimes he comes to the Still Museum with an imaginary friend. The friend, named Sorrow, becomes so enraptured by a painting she jumps in. She doesn’t walk through it, as we understand space, he said, but she doesn’t come back out, and we can’t see what she does in there. Maybe the dishes.

I can’t remember much else in the way of content from the poem. After the performance someone else asked it anyone had seen the crucifix in the middle of the painting. That was not the religious lens through which the poet had seen the painting but he didn’t seem surprised it was mentioned. Was it there intentionally, the group wondered. No, I am certain. Not that I know Still’s beliefs, I just know his intent was non representation, certainly by 1973 when this painting was made. The black letters that could be said to be there, painted over by more black strokes are also accidental, and appear via my imagination.

And once seen, I found them hard to imagine away. This painting will always be the one that helped me get back to the player piano, and progress on my ability to isolate form in poetry. It’s a small skill to have obtained but so is riding a bike.

Poem from Clyfford Still xxx-73

Poet doffed his cap to his religion
one of infinity pools, turbo blades spun.

Crucifix some one else’s song;
words in a line painted gone.

Myths and deities since Plato taint
the space and people reincarnate in paint

On fibers raw, as out as wording
as black, drawn, but halting

vertical marks that are not sure
they are ready to be a pure

line. Velvet occupying
breadth; openly without meaning.

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