Frank Stella
Year, Birthplace 1936, United States
Frank Stella studied at the Philips Academy in Andover and later at Princeton University, where he attended William Seitz’s open studio and later that of resident painter Stephen Green. His first works were painted in a style inspired by abstract expressionism. Visiting the New York galleries, he discovered works by Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell. Living in New York in 1958, he painted large-scale pictures in which stripes emerged as a motif. He became interested in Barnett Newman’s work and the teachings of the Bauhaus and met Clement Greenberg, the critic who reacted against the New York School of abstract expressionism and created the critical concept of post-painterly abstraction, which, due to the ‘purity’ of its language, was opposed to expressionism and pop art. Stella began working on a series of twenty-three Black Paintings composed of repeated parallel black stripes of the same width separated by white lines according to a rigorous geometric composition that rejected all subjectivity [The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, 1959]. He began exhibiting his work in 1959 and immediately attracted attention. At the end of the year he appeared in the exhibition Sixteen Americans at the MoMA in New York and staged his first solo exhibition at the Malden Public Library. The Emilio Castelli Gallery in New York, where his first solo exhibition was held in 1960, hired him when he was only 23 years old. His first solo exhibition in Paris was held at the Neufville Gallery in 1960. He worked on the series Aluminium Paintings in 1960 and Copper Paintings in 1960-1961. These works consist of parallel stripes of copper or aluminium-coloured paint on canvas which are all of the same width (that of the brush) and which retain the gestural mark. He acquired the habit of giving each painting in a series a title pertaining to a theme: Benjamin Moore Paintings, Concentric Squares, Mitered Mazes, Dartmouth Paintings, Moroccan Paintings, Running V, Notched V and Persian Paintings (all of which used brightly coloured parallel stripes). In 1962 he began working on the series Shaped Canvases, canvases stretched over frames that are neither square nor rectangular but in the form of a letter such as L, T, U, X, or W or shaped like a trapezium, a star, a rhombus or a zigzag. The stripes follow the shape of the frame without it being possible to determine whether it is the frame that determines the design or the other way around. Stella sought to isolate the various constitutive elements of the painting – frame, canvas, colour, format – in order to redistribute them later. He stressed that the image was an object rather than a representation of something else that existed either in the physical world or in the emotional world of the artist. In 1965-1966 he began working on the series Irregular Polygons, creating four versions of each configuration. In 1967 he began the Protractor series, creating three versions of each of thirty-one configurations. In his early series he played with asymmetry. Until 1975 Stella followed a ‘minimalist’ path: always working in series, focusing on colour/form relations and freeing himself from the traditional shape of the painting. Accompanied by a major study of William Rubin, his first retrospective exhibition – at the MoMA in New York – took place in 1970 before being presented in London, Amsterdam, Pasadena and Toronto. In the early 1970s he worked on geometric reliefs on wood or aluminium before evolving radically from 1976 onwards. His carefully constructed geometric designs, executed in smooth planes of colour, were replaced by a freer, more expressionist model that occasionally resembled graffiti, employing fluorescent or metallic colours which, in view of their decorative exuberance, could be classified as ‘baroque’. The paintings, shaped as sculptures, incorporate a range of materials including railings, aluminium plates or pieces of felt (see the series Exotic Birds, Indian Birds, Brazilian, Circuits, Plays-kool, Cone and Pillars), almost always in very large formats. The Berardo collection owns Severambia (1995, 4 x 8.40 x 3m), which belongs to this category. Stella, whose works are exhibited all over the world, staged a second retrospective exhibition at the MoMA in 1987 which then travelled to Amsterdam, Paris, Minneapolis, Houston and Los Angeles. This exhibition was instrumental in bringing broader recognition to Stella’s later work. AC