Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sound & Vision: Stormy Weather, 1960

Eric Dolphy Clyfford Still

A recording and a painting. Both from the year 1960. Both evoking a turbulent climate, psychic or otherwise.

Jackson Pollock said of Clyfford Still: "[He] makes the rest of us look academic."

Eric Dolphy's music was described as "too out to be in and too in to be out."

Both artists epitomized the avant-garde. Both flirted with both the abstract and the minimal. This credo from Still could easily apply also to the swinging bebop practiced by Dolphy: "It's intolerable to be stopped by a frames edge."

Throughout their respective careers, Dolphy and Still employed jagged lines that pushed at the boundaries of beat and frame, but they paired this improvisational roughness with an abstract minimalism. (It's tempting to contrast the two against their more polished contemporaries; Miles Davis and Mark Rothko, for example.)

The idea of an uncontainable nature and a volatile climate representing some inner psychic state was a prevalent one in the early 60's, and these two were among the vanguard. Still once stated, "I paint only myself, not nature." And Dolphy's introspective take on the Arlen-Koehler standard "Stormy Weather" takes full advantage of the original lyrical metaphor (listen to Billie Holiday's version here), while lending it a more ruminative emotional complexity.

Both pieces capture the same dichotomy. It's almost a paradoxical, tempestuous calm that we hear in Dolphy's performance and see in Still's painting...










Clyfford Still painting at SFMoMA


Sound: "Stormy Weather" by Eric Dolphy
Vision: Untitled | 1960 | oil on canvas | by Clyfford Still (on view at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

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