Art Jewelry and Art History: Still and Papac
Cover Images, Left: Clyfford Still, PH-1093, 1961. Oil on canvas, 117 x 105 inches (297.2 x 266.7 cm). Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO. Right: Seth Papac Necklace and Earrings
As a student of art history and a lover of art jewelry and metalsmithing, I often find myself reminded of artists or pieces from my art studies when looking at art jewelry. I thought it would be fun to start a new series of posts where I share a little about a jewelry artist or piece and give an intro to the artist or work from art history with which I sense a compliment or connection.
For the inaugural post in this series, we are kicking off with one of my favorite artists, Abstract Expression painter Clyfford Still (1904-1980), and one of the very first artists added to Balefire’s collection, jewelry artist Seth Papac (born 1981).
Left: Clyfford Still, PH-105, 1952. Oil on canvas,69 1/2 x 62 inches (176.5 x 157.5 cm). Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO. Right: Sterling Silver Pendant by Seth Papac
Clyfford Still’s work is mostly known for the jagged and raw shapes that pierce upward across the canvas. Those shapes have a clear visual relationship to the raw, almost torn edges of metal that Seth Papac employs in his jewelry line. But there are further similarities and great differences between how these two artists relate and related to their work and the world as a whole.
Both of these artists have a Western sensibility and approach to their work, having studied in Washington State: Clyfford Still at (what is now) Washington State University and Seth Papac at the University of Washington. After school, both men became art educators and both taught for some time in California with Still teaching at what is now the San Francisco Art Institute and Papac teaching at San Diego State and the City College of San Francisco.
Clyfford Still, PH-287, 1945. Oil on canvas, 37 x 29 1/2 inches (94 x 74.9 cm). Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO.
While Clyfford’s early work started out with a figurative focus, his work quickly moved into abstracted forms where the human figure was no longer recognizable. Those jagged color-filled shapes that rise vertically on his canvases, however, continued to tell a story of the human experience, one about the struggle to survive and rise up against the difficulties of life. Clyfford still removed the physical form in order to focus on the stories of the inner human condition.
Seth Papac, Cali Condensation, 2015, necklace, brass, anodized aluminum, plastic, 152 x 635 x 38 mm, photo: artist
Whereas Clyfford Still moved away from the human form to illustrate the truest of human stories, Seth is attracted to jewelry as he sees the human form as a vehicle for similar stories. Seth has said of his work: “Jewelry, with its intimate scale, placement on the body, and deep history as personal signifier, presented itself as an even more potent format to reveal aspects of my inner body,” and “The body, as a mediator, has consistently been the most important aspect in my vocabulary of expression.” Seth uses the physicality of the body as the vehicle for the narrative about the human experience.
Clyfford Still, while highly regarded by the art world, is almost as well known for his contentious relationship to the art world as he is for his groundbreaking work. However, that distrust and disagreement with the art world may be more nuanced than many believed. Farrah Taylor, an associate archivist at the Clyfford Still Museum, has instead stated that it was less that Still was at war with the art world and more that “He had high standards and hopes, and he did not feel the need to mess around with things that fell short.”
In many ways, Papac’s relationship to the art world, and more specifically the art jewelry world is also very nuanced. Like Still, he has received recognition from his field but has voiced concerns about a lack of professionalism and understanding of history and context within the field. It seems that Papac may share Still’s high standards and hopes for his own field of expertise.
Left: Clyfford Still, PH-321, 1948. Oil on canvas, 49 x 46 inches (124.5 x 116.8 cm). Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO. Right: Gold pendant by Seth Papac.
Still has left an indelible impact on not just American art but the history of art as a whole. His legacy is that of a man that changed art.
Seth Papac was born the year after Clyfford Still died and is still very early in his career. He also works in the much less known field of metalsmithing and art jewelry. That being said, Seth is already an award winner and is in the permanent collection of museums across the United States. It will be interesting to see the legacy he leaves behind.