Art of the 20th Century


Art Styles in 20th century Art Map


Frank Stella


Six Mile Bottom  1960




Frank Stella

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Frank Stella (born May 12, 1936) is an American painter and printmaker. He is a significant figure in minimalism, post-painterly abstraction, patterns and offset lithography.

He was born in Malden, Massachusetts. After attending high school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he went on to Princeton University, where he painted, influenced by the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, and majored in history. Early visits to New York art galleries would prove to be an influence upon his artistic development. Stella moved to New York in 1958 after his graduation. He is one the most well-regarded postwar American painters who still works today. Frank Stella has reinvented himself in consecutive bodies of work over the course of his five-decade career. Upon moving to New York City, he reacted against the expressive use of paint by most painters of the abstract expressionist movement, instead finding himself drawn towards the "flatter" surfaces of Barnett Newman's work and the "target" paintings of Jasper Johns. He began to produce works which emphasized the picture-as-object, rather than the picture as a representation of something, be it something in the physical world, or something in the artist's emotional world. Stella married Barbara Rose, later a well-known art critic, in 1961. Around this time he said that a picture was "a flat surface with paint on it - nothing more". This was a departure from the technique of creating a painting by first making a sketch. Many of the works are created by simply using the path of the brush stroke, very often using common house paint.
This new aesthetic found expression in a series of paintings, the Black Paintings (60) in which regular bands of black paint were separated by very thin pinstripes of unpainted canvas. Die Fahne Hoch! (1959) is one such painting. It takes its name ("The flag on high" in English) from the first line of the Horst-Wessel-Lied, the anthem of the National Socialist German Workers Party, and Stella pointed out that it is in the same proportions as banners used by that organization. It has been suggested that the title has a double meaning, referring also to Jasper Johns' paintings of flags. In any case, its emotional coolness belies the contentiousness its title might suggest, reflecting this new direction in Stella's work. Stella’s art was recognized for its innovations before he was twenty-five. In 1959, several of his paintings were included in "Three Young Americans" at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, as well as in "Sixteen Americans" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (60). Stella joined dealer Leo Castelli’s stable of artists in 1959. From 1960 he began to produce paintings in aluminum and copper paint which, in their presentation of regular lines of color separated by pinstripes, are similar to his black paintings. However they use a wider range of colors, and are his first works using shaped canvases (canvases in a shape other than the traditional rectangle or square), often being in L, N, U or T-shapes. These later developed into more elaborate designs, in the Irregular Polygon series (67), for example.
Also in the 1960s, Stella began to use a wider range of colors, typically arranged in straight or curved lines. Later he began his Protractor Series (71) of paintings, in which arcs, sometimes overlapping, within square borders are arranged side-by-side to produce full and half circles painted in rings of concentric color. These paintings are named after circular cities he had visited while in the Middle East earlier in the 1960s. The Irregular Polygon canvases and Protractor series further extended the concept of the shaped canvas.
Stella began his extended engagement with printmaking in the mid-1960s, working first with master printer Kenneth Tyler at Gemini G.E.L. Stella produced a series of prints during the late 1960's starting with a print called Quathlamba I in 1968. Stella's abstract prints in lithography, screenprinting, etching and offset lithography (a technique he introduced) had a strong impact upon printmaking as an art.
In 1967, Stella designed the set and costumes for Scramble, a dance piece by Merce Cunningham. The Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a retrospective of Stella’s work in 1970, making him the youngest artist to receive one. During the following decade, Stella introduced relief into his art, which he came to call “maximalist” painting for its sculptural qualities. Ironically, the paintings that had brought him fame before 1960 had eliminated all such depth. The shaped canvases took on even less regular forms in the Eccentric Polygon series, and elements of collage were introduced, pieces of canvas being pasted onto plywood, for example. His work also became more three-dimensional to the point where he started producing large, free-standing metal pieces, which, although they are painted upon, might well be considered sculpture. After introducing wood and other materials in the Polish Village series (73), created in high relief, he began to use aluminum as the primary support for his paintings. As the 1970s and 1980s progressed, these became more elaborate and exuberant. Indeed, his earlier Minimalism [more] became baroque, marked by curving forms, Day-Glo colors, and scrawled brushstrokes. Similarly, his prints of these decades combined various printmaking and drawing techniques. In 1973, he had a print studio installed in his New York house.
From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, Stella created a large body of work that responded in a general way to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. During this time, the increasingly deep relief of Stella’s paintings gave way to full three-dimensionality, with sculptural forms derived from cones, pillars, French curves, waves, and decorative architectural elements. To create these works, the artist used collages or maquettes that were then enlarged and re-created with the aid of assistants, industrial metal cutters, and digital technologies.
In the 1990s, Stella began making free-standing sculpture for public spaces and developing architectural projects. In 1993, for example, he created the entire decorative scheme for Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, which includes a 10,000-square-foot mural. His 1993 proposal for a kunsthalle and garden in Dresden did not come to fruition. His aluminum bandshell, inspired by a folding hat from Brazil, was built in downtown Miami in 2001; a monumental Stella sculpture was installed outside the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Stella’s work was included in several important exhibitions that defined 1960s art, among them the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s The Shaped Canvas (1965) and Systemic Painting (1966). His art has been the subject of several retrospectives in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Among the many honors he has received was an invitation from Harvard University to give the Charles Eliot Norton lectures in 1984. Calling for a rejuvenation of abstraction by achieving the depth of baroque painting, these six talks were published by Harvard University Press in 1986. The artist continues to live and work in New York.


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