A foremost practitioner of American Abstract Expressionism, the painter Clyfford Still started out as a self-taught artist, capturing on canvas his impressions of the Canadian landscape in which he spent his childhood from the age of six onwards. He studied for a brief period at the Art Students League in New York in 1925 and from 1933 to 1941 attended Washington State College, first as a student and subsequently as a lecturer. Despite defending a thesis on Paul Cézanne in 1934, he soon decided to banish references to the European artistic tradition from his work, and was one of the first American artists to espouse abstraction.His initial works infused with classical allegorical references soon gave way to compositions based on large planes. In this process, which took place at the end of the 1930s, he was ahead of the rest of the artists of his generation, who were then still painting figurative works connected with Surrealism.
When the Second World War ended Still settled in New York. Through Mark Rothko, whom he had met in 1943 and become close friends with, he made the acquaintance of Peggy Guggenheim, who showed his work at her gallery, Art of This Century, a year later. During the following years Still met other artists affiliated with Abstract Expressionism and exhibited at the Betty Parsons Gallery, and his work became more abstract. Titles were replaced by numbers to avoid any interpretation, and his interest in verticality, already apparent in earlier works, became even more evident in large canvases soaked in patches of contrasting colours. However it was precisely at this point that Still began to be highly critical of the art world. He became increasingly isolated and avoided showing and even selling his work. Finally, in 1961, he moved to a farm in Maryland where he spent the rest of his life.