Still moved to rural Maryland in 1961 where he remained until his death in 1980. This period was the most prolific chapter of his artistic career. He produced more than 1,100 works on paper during these years, primarily in pastel on colored, dime-store construction paper. These pieces exhibit what cultural critics sometimes describe as attributes of a “late style.” Here, Still achieved a new sense of daring whimsicality and graceful use of line. He also placed a greater emphasis on voids during these final years, which demonstrates his enduring interest in the expressive play between positive and negative space. Where his earlier, classic Abstract Expressionist works embody qualities associated with an intense, awe-inspiring journey toward universal truth, his later works—and those on paper in particular—exhibit signs of liberation, humility, and peace.
In this sense, distinct affinities exist between Still’s pastels and the lightness of Ludwig van Beethoven’s final pieces of chamber music (an analogy Still made himself). In Still’s late style, the colored-paper grounds serve as a “given,” like the predetermined key of a piece of music. Yet, while the colored paper acts as the backdrop for the “action” created on the surface, it is simultaneously visually pulled forward to play an active role in the composition, creating a greater sense of movement and freedom than ever before.
Within this vast body of pastels on paper, there are multiple groups representing sudden bursts of creativity over a few days or in a single week. Dated to the day, these suites reveal that Still regarded his pastel works as a kind of journal. In a 1978 letter to Sidney Janis, he stated that they “constitute a visual diary of a personal world and I have decided that it would be most appropriate to keep them together until the record is finished.”
Selected from a group of forty-three pastels created between January 1 and January 4, 1980, six months before Still’s death, these pastels are a few of his last works: his concluding statements.
David Anfam, Bailey H. Placzek, Dean Sobel. “The Late Drawings.” In Clyfford Still: The Works on Paper. Denver: Clyfford Still Museum Research Center, 2016. http://pubs.clyffordstillmuseum.org/worksonpaper/the-late-drawings/.
Anfam, David, et al. “The Late Drawings.” Clyfford Still: The Works on Paper. Denver: Clyfford Still Museum Research Center, 2016. 1 Nov. 2016 <http://pubs.clyffordstillmuseum.org/worksonpaper/the-late-drawings/>.