Painting 1944-N is a powerful early example of Still's mature style. The surface is a black impasto, enlivened with knife marks. A jagged red line cuts high on the canvas, and is intersected by two vertical, irregular, pointed shapes before plunging downward to the bottom edge. The size of paintings like this one, its largely empty expanse, and the lightning-bolt quality of Still's line have led some to see in his work a vision of the broad spaces of the Western prairies, where he grew up. But he himself believed that such associations only diminished his work.
Still commanded a new kind of abstraction, free from decipherable symbols. The tarry surface of Painting 1944-N concentrates attention on itself, denying the illusion of depth, and the intensely saturated hue carries emotional force without relying on associative imagery. More programmatically than any of the other Abstract Expressionists, Still consciously tried to erase any traces of modern European art from his painting, and to develop a new art appropriate to the New World. "Pigment on canvas," he believed, "has a way of initiating conventional reactions. . . . Behind these reactions is a body of history matured into dogma, authority, tradition. The totalitarian hegemony of this tradition I despise, its presumptions I reject."
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 193.