Place as a Source of Inspiration

Last year, I wrapped up our conversation with a blog about books and documentary films that inspire me. A big thanks to everyone who sent me their favorites – keep them coming. I look forward to reading your picks, and paying it forward in a future blog.

To ring in 2012, I’ll begin with places that spark my creativity. Over the holidays, I had a chance to visit the Clyfford Still Museum which recently opened in Denver, the city that was awarded this American artist’s estate. Clyfford Still’s life story and how Denver became the site for 95% of his artistic output are fascinating.

Artist: Clyfford Still | oil on canvas | 357 x 600 | “PH – 972” (1940) | photo: Meg Fitzpatrick

His final will stipulated that his body of work – all 2,400 pieces – had to be housed in one place and only in an America city. Still did not want his work lost in a museum’s vast, encyclopedic collection or owned on foreign soil. The 50-years of work, from his early figurative pieces to his later large-scale abstract paintings, landed in Denver after a distant relative (a Denver resident) suggested to Still’s widow that she consider Denver as the “American city.” She did, and the rest is history.

Still’s story is even more interesting. At a highpoint in his career, he got sick of the public scrutiny of his work and decided to leave New York – where he was one of the central figures along with the likes of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clement Greenberg – and move to a quiet farm in Maryland. He intentionally placed himself on the periphery, where he was content to produce work for himself – 835 paintings are now in Denver’s museum. Most have never been seen by the public because once Still finished a painting, he rolled it onto a tube for storage in his barn. When the curators began taking inventory, they sometimes found 11 paintings on one tube!

In his own words, Still said that “behind all my paintings is the figure.” The current show is clearly curated for you see that every composition uses a vertical line format from his earlier figurative work (1930’s – 1940’s) to his later abstractions of standing bodies (1940’s until his death in 1980).

The architect Brad Cloepfil and his team at Allied Works designed this museum. Their body of work is another source of inspiration for me. I first became aware of their work when they won a Dallas competition to renovate and expand Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing and Visual Arts, Dallas’ Arts Magnet School for talented kids. I met Brad at a book signing, and he talked about the Denver commission, his excitement about the museum project and the Winter 2011 opening. Both the Still Museum and Booker T. buildings are thoughtfully designed to honor the occupants, their work and stories without distractions.

Clyfford Still Museum | Denver, Colorado | Architect: Allied Works/ Brad Cloepfil | Photo: Meg Fitzpatrick

I stumbled across another artist who is inspired by Still’s paintings and colors. Note her iPad and paint program.

Clyfford Still Museum | Denver, Colorado | Photo: Meg Fitzpatrick

Happy 2012: Wishing you a year of creativity (whatever your field) and visiting inspiring places.

Random Experiments – Why Not?

"One Broad Stroke" Aluminum metallic and red house paint (16-1/2” x 24” framed) | SOLD Impastato Collection

Could I load my paint brush and make one continuous line across the surface? That’s one of the questions that led to this study. The answer: Rarely made it. But, as in most of my random experiments, it doesn’t matter because I like the accidents – the puddle on the edges and endpoints, especially those marks left by the runny/ high viscosity aluminum paint which are beautiful and glitter when light hits them. I was also thinking a lot about house paint and wondering why the cigarette-smoking, hard-drinking Abstract Expressionists flocked to this medium. My answer after spending hours with it? Freedom, with a capital “F.” I felt freed by the size of the paint cans (no petite palm-sized tubes), the immediate readiness (no mixing with a solvent or other medium), the guaranteed color (no need for color recipe charts) and Sherwin Williams prices (so much lower than artist grade materials).

Being open to ideas and experimenting with materials as a way of life? Why not.

PS: This experimental painting has a new home in the collection of a local landscape architect who attended last Wednesday’s Dallas Center for Architecture blow-out annual party, “Rockitecture,” at the always cool Filter House on White Rock Lake spillway.

PPS: I’m skipping next Sunday’s blog post. Talk to you in two weeks.