PH-165 (1937-8-A) is the earliest of the thirty-one works Clyfford Still donated to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in 1964, and it represents an important turning point in his work. In the early 1930s, Still painted a number of figural works that represent the soul-crushing privations of his family’s farm during the Dust Bowl. As an adult, he would describe how “men and . . . machines ripped a meager living from the thin top soil,” and his plaintive paintings of farmers show men wounded by their labors. Still later recalled the toll such work took on his own arms, “bloody to the elbows shocking wheat.” Despite the hints of Still as an abstract painter in PH-165 (1937-8-A), we can also see the last fragments of his earlier figurative style and a palette that seemingly references the lonesome and dry farmland of his childhood.
Label from Shade: Clyfford Still / Mark Bradford, May 26–October 2, 2016