Clyfford Still: Phallic Images

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Clyfford Still

The American painter Clyfford Still, now regarded as one of the greatest exponents of abstract expressionism, has a major gallery devoted to his work in Denver. Still lived from 1904 to 1980, and during his lifetime he created 2,400 works. Nearly all of these are at the museum, which was opened in 2011 right beside the Denver Art Museum.

Still believed an artists' works should be seen all together - not just his work but others too. It is a very rare circumstance that actually makes this happen, but Still got his wish. By the way, he signed all his works with his unique first name, Clyfford. Despite the spelling, it is pronounced Clifford.

Rock formation or giant phallus?Rock formation or giant phallus?The current exhibition at the museum shows some of his paintings juxtaposed with preparatory drawings, while the remainder of the gallery space is filled with highlights from the permanent collection.

While teaching at the Richmond Professional Institute in Virginia from 1933-1934, Still drew a unique series of 21 lithographs, most of which explored imagery from earlier oil paintings. The rocky monoliths shown in the painting here, particularly the one on the right, are clearly phallic. The museum does not hide the fact that his work must be interpreated this way. The panel to the right of this work mentions another work that "translates the shapes into a vigourously hatched graphic study with sexual overtones."

As Still progressed, his human figures became every more bizarre and grotesque, emphasizing their sexual organs.





None of his works were given titles, so they are displayed with a cryptic series of letters and numbers, but most of the works before he went entirely abstract date from the 1930s.


Still did not show his works for many years. For an artist whose life has been shrouded in mystery, a visit to the museum is a revelation about a true American iconic painter of the 20th century.


For more about the museum, visit the website:

Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist currently affiliated with the National Astronomical Research Institute. He did his PhD work in the history of astronomy at James Cook University, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. He is the author of 12 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honour by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 1990.

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