This painting is one of a number that Clyfford Still made in 1953 when he was living in New York and traveling to the West Coast for several months a year. He wrote of an Untitled, 1953 picture, "The panel was conceived as an implosion of infinities" (quoted in T. Kellein, "Approaching the Art of Clyfford Still," in Clyfford Still, 1904-1980: The Buffalo and San Francisco Collections, Munich, 1992). It was in this period that his work achieved the most sublime realization of his painterly ambitions, to be an "American art," unencumbered by the European tradition, that achieved the ecstatic through painted forms that represented, as he said, not nature but the artist himself. The works are painted with a palette knife in relatively dry pigments, with the edges of the forms created by pulled edges of knifed paint; as Irving Sandler wrote in the New York Times, "In his own painting Still treats the surface as an open field of upward-thrusting jagged areas. The accent is on openness. No horizontals knit the verticals into a relational structure that might break the continuous plane. The torn drawing acts to release the areas, creating an effect of expansiveness. Those on the edges are cut off, appearing to extend beyond the canvas limits. Still's abstractions at their best convey an immediate sensation of awesome boundlessness and upward aspiration" (The New York Times, 21 December 1952).
Fiercely independent, unwilling to accept anything written about him or the power of words, Still nevertheless kept a diary and explained his pleasure in work in 1956 as follows: "A great Free Joy surges through me when I work. Only, the conceptions are born too quickly. And the beautiful white fields receive their color. I seem to achieve a comparable ecstasy in bringing forth the flaming life through these large responsive areas of canvas. As the [colors] rise in austere thrusts to carry their power infinitely beyond the bounds of the limiting field, I move with them and find a resurrection from the moribund oppressions that held me only hours ago. I must quickly move on to another to keep the spirit alive and unburdened by the labor my Puritan reflexes tell me must be the cost of any joy" (C. Still, diary entry, 11 February 1956, reprinted in T. Kellein, op. cit.).
Works of this year have been rarely included in exhibitions of Still's art; this may be the result of his bitter departure from Betty Parsons in 1953 to join Sidney Janis, and his argument with Parsons about pictures she had purchased. Still retained control of his paintings during his lifetime, carefully vetting potential purchasers and releasing perhaps only twenty percent of his output, including several gifts to major museums.
Still was born on a farm in North Dakota, and traveled to Washington State for his university training; he taught for most of his career and inspired several generations of students with his forthright individualist morality. His work was conceived in the same spirit of existential dismay and spiritual searching that Rothko and Newman and others were pursuing, but Still pursued these aims with an uncompromising vigor. "He conceived of himself as a kind of latter-day pioneer who discovered a Virgin land in art. The American frontier recalled by Still's paintings had vanished by 1890, but its image has lived on in the American imagination. A symbolic realm, it has evoked emotions, ideas and associations in the American psyche and has continued to shape the very being of Americans, their psychology, thinking, behaviour and even hopes" (I. Sandler, exh. cat., Newman, Rothko, Still: Search for the Sublime, C&M Arts, New York, 1994).