Abstract-Expressionism bails me out

Underpainting of a hailstorm. That’s painting #6 underpainted; one more to go.

When I had a composition problem on this underpainting of a hailstorm, I reached back to an old friend: the color field painter Clyfford Still.

Living on the Lake Plains as I do, I know that a level field is perfect for growing crops, but not so attractive for painting. It resolves into bands—a border of green at the bottom, an expanse of gold, a distant, straight hedgerow of green, and then the sky. (This is the same problem with painting Lake Ontario, with its regular shoreline.)
1956-D, 1956, by Clyfford Still
Clyfford Still’s compositions—while emphatically non-representational—still carry the whiff of the natural world about them. In part, this comes from their texture: they may be of color fields, but they are gloriously impasto. But in part it comes from the shapes themselves, which are evocative of the real world.
One of Still’s devices was to lay a contrasting band right along the edge of his canvas, which is then elegantly and perfectly balanced against the other shapes in his canvas. So when I find myself at a loss about how to deal with that edge band of grass that always shows up in a flat landscape, I go and potter among Still’s paintings for a while.
1952-A, 1952, by Clyfford Still
Perhaps it is because I grew up with them. Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery owns 33 paintings dated between 1937 and 1963, and they are as familiar to me as my own skin.
That’s small potatoes compared to his oeuvre. The majority of his paintings were never sold in his lifetime and are now on display at the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!