Available online now, director Dennis Scholl’s comprehensive documentary on the abstract expressionist Clyfford Still, Lifeline: Clyfford Still, delves into the artist’s profound and prized works and his rather cryptic private life. Using the artist’s archival material; as well as his own video, audio and interviews with a handful of Still’s peers, critics, and family members, Scholl pieces together a story with plenty to ponder.
Still produced work that fused two popular styles—gestural and color field—and positioned himself as a pioneer and a polarizing figure. He saw artists like Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko as peers, but preceded them in many regards, producing abstract works as early as 1938 and removing himself from the commercial art world by 1951. Many assumed Still’s stepping away stemmed from a growing disdain for the grandeur of it all, but Scholl explains it as “the price of independence.”
Today, much of his work is housed in Denver, Colorado’s Clyfford Still Museum, which opened in 2011. Lifeline addresses the gigantic trove of work Still left behind—a large majority of which was completed after his formal separation from the art world, which peaked with his cutting ties with several prominent New York galleries. Whether in San Francisco or New York, and then on his reclusive Maryland estate, he completed just about 2,400 works, largely free from influence and with the intention of exploring the human psyche. “These are not paintings in the usual sense, they are life and death, merging in fearful union,” the artist famously said.
Featuring Still’s surviving daughters, SFMOMA director Neal Benezra, Clyfford Still museum director Dean Sobel, Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, and art critic Jerry Saltz, Lifeline: Clyfford Still builds a comprehensive storyline for an artistic icon that influenced many.
Images courtesy of Kino Lorber