Still, more than other members of the New York School, attempted to purge his work of literary allusions and overt graphic symbols, preferring to stress the elements of painting—colour, shape, size—and their formal relationships as his subject-matter. He frequently denied any connection between the craggy forms in his paintings and the rugged western landscapes of his childhood: 'I only paint myself, not nature'.1 Stripped of conventional associations, he hoped the elements in his paintings could be as pure and abstract as musical notes, and indeed he compared his paintings to orchestral compositions.2
1952–no.2 was purchased from the artist in early 1953 by Alfonso Ossorio, in whose possession it remained until 1978 when it was acquired by the Australian National Gallery. During this time it was known variously as Grey picture or Grey painting.
Even such a mildly descriptive title would not have suited Still's austerity. 'My paintings', he wrote, 'have no titles because I do not wish them to be considered illustrations or pictorial puzzles. If made properly visible they speak for themselves'.3
Mrs Clyfford Still has confirmed through her husband's records that the work is correctly titled 1952–no.2 and was painted in 1952.4 The painting is further identified in Still's records by the photographic number PH773. The painting 1952–no.2 is the second variant of a work painted in New York in 1951. This painting, which forms part of the artist's estate, was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1980.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.225.
- 'The fact that I grew up on the prairies has nothing to do with my paintings, what people think they find in them. I paint only myself, not nature' (from 'An interview with Clyfford Still' by Benjamin Townsend in 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., p.148.
- Clyfford Still, quoted from a letter written to the Tate Gallery in 1972, in Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art Other than Works by British Artists, London: Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1981, p.710.
- Mrs Clyfford Still, correspondence with the Gallery, 11 August 1983.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010