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Abstract Expressionism: A New Art for a New World

After the atrocities of World War II, many artists felt that the world needed to be reinvented

1944-N No. 2

Clyfford Still
(American, 1904–1980)

1944. Oil on canvas, 8' 8 1/4" x 7' 3 1/4" (264.5 x 221.4 cm)

In 1944-N, No. 2, an uneven background of black is interrupted by a few jagged fissures of red, yellow, white, and green. Still used a palette knife to apply the thick impasto onto an oversized canvas, resulting in an irregularly textured surface. The artist rejected any figurative interpretations of his work, claiming to remove any recognizable imagery: “I paint only myself, not nature.”1 In fact, he wanted to obliterate any connection to the European tradition of painting. “Pigment on canvas,” he wrote, “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.”2

Benjamin Townsend, "An interview with Clyfford Still," Gallery Notes, Albright-Knox Gallery vol. 24 no. 2, Summer 1961, pp. 10–16. Reprinted in Maurice Tuchman, New York School: The first generation, (Greenwich, Connecticut: New York Graphic Society 1965), 148.
The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, 193.
Donald Kuspit, “Frontier Abstraction,”

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

A closely woven, sturdy cloth of hemp, cotton, linen, or a similar fiber, frequently stretched over a frame and used as a surface for painting.

An Italian word for “mixture,” used to describe a painting technique wherein paint is thickly laid on a surface, so that brushstrokes or palette knife marks are visible.

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent (noun); the act of producing a picture using paint (verb, gerund).

A substance, usually finely powdered, that produces the color of any medium. When mixed with oil, water, or another fluid, it becomes paint.

A flexible, thin blade with a handle, typically used for mixing paint colors or applying them to a canvas.

Representing a form or figure in art that retains clear ties to the real world.

The area of an artwork that appears farthest away from the viewer; also, the area against which a figure or scene is placed.

Untitled, Un-Manipulated
Clyfford Still generally used a system of numbers, years, and letters to identify his works, convinced that titles manipulated the viewing experience. He stated, “The pictures are to be without titles of any kind. I want no allusions to interfere with or assist the spectator. Before them I want him to be on his own, and if he finds in them an imagery unkind or unpleasant or evil, let him look to the state of his own soul.”3