Frank Stella gained international attention with an initial success in painting, yet, he rapidly evolved into painted sculptural constructions and then sculpture.
During the summer of 1980, the Stedilijk Museum in Amsterdam exhibited a suite of drawings by American sculptors. There, I had the pleasure of seeing a small showing of drawings and sketches for sculptural objects and installations by Carl Andre, Christo, Joel Shapiro, Donald Judd among others. An especially noteworthy drawing was a simple Stella sketch (Stella does not regard himself as an expert draughtsman, and, next to Christo, who could?) offering schematic details of soon to be realized possibilities. The little drawing on graph paper was for the design sheet for the set of works discussed below.
Eight years after seeing the drawing, Bill Lasarow, editor of Artscene (A Monthly Guide to Art in Southern California) invited me to review the debut Southern California showing of the pieces at the James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles (1988). This review appeared in Artscene, Volume 7, No. 9, May 1988. James Corcoran Gallery provided the transcript of an excellent interview with the artist written by Andy Grundberg, (The New York Times, October 11, 1987) which is quoted, and, my essay was illustrated with a black and white photograph of the Stella sculptural relief Merry Christmas, 1987. The Artscene review:
“Frank Stella’s prodigious talent and clarity of vision is as exceptional as it is welcome. The veteran modernist painter continues to test the limits of painting, while himself serving as a barometer of painterly concerns.
For Stella, “the aim of art is to create space, space which is not compromised by decoration or illustration.”* His most recent works, such as The Forge or The Quadrant are massive day-glo and candy-colored curvilinear, perforated metal forms that jut out aggressively from the walls on which they are mounted. Absorbed by an almost single-minded passion for non-objective painting, the artist fervently pursues the fullness of sculptural form without letting loose the principles of painterly abstraction for an instant. As he has argued, “No matter how sculptural, or three-dimensional, or projective they might be from the wall, the essential way that you look at them and address them is through the conventions of painting.”*
Beginning with the Polish Villages series, Stella has been creating wall reliefs for over a decade now. Pictorial space has increasingly been seen through fundamental projective surfaces, woven forward and back through an imagined picture plane. As in the Indian Bird and the Exotic Bird series, the viewer is made to wander through a visceral space occupied by a quilt of patterns and shape which consistently violate the suggested parameters. The principal unifying element is the everpresent geometric structure variously explicit or implicit throughout three decades of Stella’s work.
He regards the current reliefs as “loosely Constructivist in a way”, a frame of reference in which he is “building pictures.”* The reliefs are colossal fabrications of carbon steel, bronze, stainless steel and aluminum, each fabricated from scale models produced by the artist. The prototype, done in foam board, are successively enlarged until the final construction, typically ten feet or more, is returned to the studio to be painted. Some parts are now being painted prior to final assembly.
This prodcedure reveals more than just methology. Stella once more asserts his genius at formulating recombinations of essentially known and familiar shapes (protractor, French curves, etc.) patterns (stripes, cross hatching, etc.) and materials, as well as conventions of pictorial space. Format, ideas, and materials are reorganized with such unabashed, straightforward simplicity – and this is the essence behind the baroque skin of these works – as to startle by its directness and economy.
These recombinant ideas continue to bring forth new and formerly unrealized potential. By synthesizing various components of his own as well as new sources in a changing visual and intellectual vernacular, Stella simultaneously crystallizes painting’s priorities while infusing it with fresh mission, distinction, and a sense of purpose.”
Born 1936, at Malden, Massachusetts, Frank Stella studied at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts then moved on to Princeton University. Although he lives in New York City he maintains strong connections to Boston’s South Shore (his sister is a faculty member at the Boston Architectural College).
Stella works are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He has exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York, M. Knoedler & Company, New York; Lever / Myerson Galleries, New York. Stella many awards include First Prize at the International Biennal Exhibition of Painting in Tokyo, Japan.
The artist is listed in: Pate-Havlice, Patricia, Index of Artistic Biography, Metuchen, New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, 1981; Who’s Who in American Art, Cattell Press, Jaques, New York & London: R. R. Bowker Company, 1980 – present; Who’s Who in American Art, 1999-2000, Millenium Edition, Flinsch-Rodriquez, Patricia. New Providence, New Jersey: Marquis Who’s Who, 2000; The New York Art Review, An Illustrated Survey of the State’s Leading Museums, Galleries and Artists, Krantz, Les. Chicago, Illinois: American References, Inc., 1989
The author gratefully acknowledges contributions from the sources listed above plus Frank Stella, Andy Grundberg, The New York Times, James Corcoran Gallery, Bill Lasarow, Artscene, Whitney Museum of American Art (Worleygig photography from Stella Retrospective, above) and re: Sculpt (a publication of the International Sculptural center). See:
This document was originally assembled for Artscene (Los Angeles), Bill Lasarow, editor. Items related to the Stella show at the James Corcoran Gallery and the creation of the Artscene review above may be found in the William Hemmerdinger Papers at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Appraisals and opinions regarding modernist painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawing, and printmaking may be obtained by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. Inquiries regarding art registry, purchase, sale or commercial galleries representing Frank Stella art should be directed to the artist at Frank Stella Studio, 17 Jones Street, New York, New York, 10013