Clifford. B. West
Clifford B. West, 90, died peacefully in his home in Norwich on October 22, surrounded by his loving family.
He was born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 4th, 1916, the son of Clifford B. West, Sr. and Alyce Tucker West. His childhood and youth were greatly influenced by western nature and culture — his father was rancher and realtor in Alamosa, Colorado — as well as by the artistic influences he received from his grandmother’s “Tucker School of Expression” in Cleveland, where his mother was a prominent instructor.
Clifford received a B.A. from Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado, and graduated from Cleveland School of Art prior to receiving his M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He remained closely connected with Cranbrook for many years; in addition to teaching at the Academy, Clifford was chair of the art department of Cranbrook’s Kingswood School for almost two decades. The Cranbrook years — during which he worked and studied in various disciplines with prominent figures such as the architect Eliel Saarinen, the sculptor Carl Milles, the furniture designer and sculptor Harry Bertoia, and the designers Charles & Ray Eames — were determining factors for the multifaceted career Clifford pursued throughout his life up until a few days before his death.
Clifford is best known as a painter, muralist, documentary filmmaker, photographer, and teacher. He was also an exhibition curator and a book designer. While his early work showed a clear connection to Regionalism, his large-scale murals from the 1930s, 40s and 50s demonstrate a strong affinity with the Mexican muralist movement. His most recent murals, painted in 1991, 1992 and 2002, can be seen at Three Tomatoes Trattoria in Lebanon. Over a long career, he developed a broad painterly style that in recent years peaked in a deep psychological expressionism. In connection with a comprehensive retrospective exhibition at AVA Gallery in 2004, professor Jim Jordan of Dartmouth College wrote: “West’s recent paintings have a clarity, high key, and urgency that one usually associates with young artists. These intense works startlingly crown a long career based on the solid draftsmanship and spatiality typical of the regionalist, early-modern generation.” One of Clifford’s outstanding, recent works was painted just a few months ago: a portrait of the talented musician Jon Spencer, brother of AVA’s Education Director, Karen Miller. This portrait received a special mention by Monroe Denton, the juror of AVA’s Fourteenth Annual Juried Summer Exhibition. Mr. Denton characterized this work as “singular, the distillation of a lifetime.”
In the mid-1950s Clifford began exploring the use of a 16mm camera. This was the beginning of a twenty-five-year-long career as an independent documentary filmmaker, which resulted in about thirty films, most of them on art and architecture. The topics range from a series on Italian Renaissance sculpture and architecture to films on the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Three of his films — Harry Bertoia’s Sculpture, Rolf Nesch: A Visit to Al (part one of a trilogy), and Bronze: River of Metal — received Cine Golden Eagle Awards.
Clifford lived for long periods of time abroad: in Guatemala in the late 1940s, in Norway and in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s. During this period he also made photographic essays on artists and their work. The most ambitious project was Opus Donatelli: The Twin Pulpits in San Lorenzo, which was shown in numerous museums throughout the United States and Europe.
Since his return to the United States in the early 1980s Clifford was closely involved with AVA Gallery’s expanding programming efforts. A senior member of AVA’s faculty, he taught there in his inimitable, and now so legendary, style since 1988. Over the years, he provided a number of artists with the opportunity to grow through his challenging and unique teaching methods. Since 1990 Clifford maintained a large, crowded studio in AVA’s 11 Bank Street building — a studio that over the years became a frequent meeting place for artists’ critiques and lively discussions.
Clifford exhibited widely in the United States and in Europe, and received many awards for his paintings and artistic accomplishments. These include a “Prix de Rome Alumni Award,” a Medal of Honor from the Michigan Museum of Arts, Sciences and Literature, and a Distinguished Alumni Award from Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado. Taped interviews with Clifford, beginning in the early ’50s and conducted over a number of years, are in the Archives of American Art in Washington, DC.
Several of Clifford’s paintings, films and photographs are in the collections of numerous museums and art institutions, including Brooklyn Museum of Art, Clark University Art Museum, Colorado State Historical Society, Cranbrook Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Iowa State College, Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Oslo, Norway, New York Public Library, and the British Arts Council.
Together with his ex-wife, Eleanor West, who survives him, Clifford co-founded the Ossabaw Island Project, a residential project for creative individuals that ran from 1961 to the early 1980s on a barrier island off the coast of Georgia. As part of this endeavor he developed a deep commitment to environmental and ecological causes, which includes two films — In Search of an Ecological Balance and Give and Take.
Clifford is predeceased by his first wife, Joy Griffin West, their infant son Tucker, and by his sister Anne Wood. He is survived by his wife, AVA’s Executive Director Bente Torjusen, their two daughters, Anna and Matilda, all of Norwich, his son Justin Paynter West and grandson Beryl of Northampton, three step-children, Michael, John and Gilian Shallcross, a nephew David Wood and his three sons, David Jr., John, and Arthur.
Memorial contributions may be sent to “The Clifford B. West Fund of AVA Gallery,” AVA/Alliance for the Visual Arts, 11 Bank Street, Lebanon, NH 03766.
Clifford’s creative insight, energy, and uncompromising commitment to furthering the arts through an ongoing process of exploration have had a profound — and lasting — influence on AVA. Gifts in Clifford’s memory helps honor his important legacy and his deep commitment to and love for our organization and its future potential.
Donations to The Clifford B. West Fund will be dedicated to strengthen AVA’s educational programs in the broadest possible sense, including the preservation of his extraordinary 16mm films on art as well as the establishment of a visiting artists’ program.