Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type



Art & Art History

First Advisor

Dr. Robert Nauman


The numerous early drawings made by the enigmatic Abstract Expressionist, Clyfford Still, have remained largely undiscovered due to the strict requirements of the artist’s will. Still demonstrated a fast-paced development of a unique aesthetic leading to abstraction as a young man; however, the earliest known drawings, circa 1920, are stylistically consist with a group of drawings performed over fifteen years later, in 1936, when the artist visited the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation to record the unique Native American culture. As evident through multiple diary entries and drawings, the stylistic shift back to a juvenile aesthetic reveals both Still’s interest in thoroughly documenting his experience on the reservation and his deep sympathy he felt for the Natives, whose way-of-life paralleled Still’s childhood environment. Furthermore, Still’s mythical and philosophical framework for his iconic abstractions share many similarities with the Native religious beliefs of the Washington plateau area. This discovery can be more broadly understood within Still’s later work in addition to the twentieth century art historical phenomenon of Primitivism.