Frank Stella is a painter, sculptor, set designer, and printmaker greatly admired for innovating Minimalist and Post-painterly abstraction, as well as his pioneering use of overtly industrial methodologies.Read More
Stella grew up in Boston and never went to art school, but he did make some abstract paintings at Phillips Academy, Andover. He then went to Princeton University to major in history, and did painting courses with curator William Seitz and artist Stephen Greene. Inspired by Jasper Johns' Green Target (1955) he moved to New York in 1958.
Initially Stella worked part-time in New York as a house painter, but began a long career of staggeringly innovative artworks—sequentially exploring different sorts of support shape, support material, paint and colour type, surface quality, and illusory or real space.
Stella achieved initial fame through his large holistic Black Paintings (1958—1960) featuring wide parallel bands of matte black house-painting enamel, applied with a house-painting brush on raw canvas, with no masking in between. The careful but loose application caused the 'pinstripes' to flicker, and the soft dark bands to appear ominous and restless.
The 'Running V' series (1964—1965) were monochromes extended horizontally along the wall and dramatically exploited chevron directional interruptions that dramatically changed their silhouettes.
The related 'Notched V' series (1964—1965), on the other hand, was polychromatic and compact, with its dramatic V-shaped sections arranged in isolation, pairs, or trios: each having its own sombre hue.
From the midpoint of this decade on, as he developed a range of new types of painting, Stella took on more and more assistants and technicians, and subcontracted assembling and cutting work to fabrication shops. This downplayed a little his bodily involvement in producing his work but emphasised his role as primary decisionmaker.
Stella's immense 'Protractor' series (1967—1971), with 27 configurations, combined his interest in Henri Matisse with a playful curiosity about the geometric angle-measuring tool. With exceptionally thick stretchers these joined up curved and multi-coloured hemispheres seem a celebration of Islamic art and Orphism, and dominate any gallery they inhabit.
In the late 1970s Stella started to explore the malleable properties of honeycombed aluminium, etched magnesium, and painted metal tubing to explore an exuberant Baroque sensibility.
In the 'Exotic Birds' series (1976—1980) he created a mixture of flashy allusions to Pablo Picasso's cubist sculpture and Jackson Pollock's painting, mixed with the shapes of office draughting equipment like French curves, T-squares, and triangles.
This ostentation continued with the 'Indian Birds' series (1977—1979) that came from a residency in India where he incorporated discarded metal sheets of flubbed soft-drink can labels.
'Circuits' (1980—1984) was a series of densely layered metal elements that overall usually resembled a rectangle. These curved magnesium pieces were etched with grids of colourful cross-hatching and frenetic scribble so they looked manually produced, not factory manufactured.
The elegant 'Malta' reliefs (1984—1986), with angular negative shapes, dropped the garish colour and focused on deep curved shiny metal forms. Cones and Pillars (1984—1987) mixed Lichtenstein-esque cones, cylinders, and discs with offcuts and floor scraps, while Moby Dick (1986—1997) was a large suite of evocative paintings, sculptures, and lithographs inspired by Herman Melville's novel.
Recent work has focused on sculpture, digital technology, and 3D printing.
Frank Stella has been the subject of both solo exhibitions and group exhibitions. Solo exhibitions include Frank Stella's Stars: a Survey, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut (2020); Frank Stella: Recent Work, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York (2019); Frank Stella: a Retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2016); and Frank Stella, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1970).
Significant group exhibitions include Systemic Painting, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1966) and The Shaped Canvas, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1965).
Frank Stella's work is held in significant collections around the world, including National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Tate Modern, London; Art Institute of Chicago; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Kunstmuseum, Basel.
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021
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