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Frank Stellar

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Frank Stella

An American Artist

Frank Stella is an American painter who remains poplar after almost four decades of work. He was born in 1936 and studied at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts under Patrick Morgan and at Princeton University under William Seitz and Stephen Greene. After 1958 he lived in New York. He came to the fore in the 1960s as one of the most inventive of the new school of Post-Painterly Abstraction, a reaction against Abstract Expressionism. He was then exhibited widely in New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. A retrospective exhibition in 1970 was held under the auspices of the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He began as one of many post war minimalist painters, but then his work took a different route from the others, leading him to a "second career" in abstract expressionism. In this career, he struggled with issues, which had placed abstract art in a standstill after Mondrian, and Stella looked back to the sixteenth century for solutions. Stella has also been influenced by the Baroque period, first because of parallel situations, but also because of similarities in the creation of space ("Concepts in career: Frank Stella").

The point of departure for Stella in 1958 for his new approach to abstraction was the flag paintings of Jasper Johns. Using various devices, Stella emphasized the flatness of the painting pattern, abolishing the three-dimensional image, and he was uncompromising as he refused to permit the introduction of deep recession behind the picture plane. The result was that the figure-ground relationship was almost completely eliminated as the stripes and orthogonal constituting the picture echoed the contours of the format. To achieve this more effectively, he would use notched canvases or shaped canvases. His style came to be known as "non-relational" painting in which he made the forms coextensive with the painting as a whole and eliminated discrete contained shapes and the accompanying internal relations among the parts. His work in this respect had affinities with the primary structures of some minimal artist and with the All-Over style of painting in which attention is evenly diffused over the whole canvas, leaving no outstanding points of interest brought together by balance, harmony, rhythm, and so on (Osborne 521).

Until his last month at Princeton, Stella had painted in a style that was derived from de Kooning, Frankenthaler, and Kline, and he would subsequently absorb influences from Gottlieb and Motherwell. At the end of his time at Princeton he entered on a period of rapid development in which he produced compositions containing single or multiple box forms placed in varying contexts of bands or stripes. These pictures make up the bridge, or transition, to the Black series in which his profile as an independent painter was established. Many of these transitional paintings reflect Stella's excitement with the ambiance of New York City. In Coney Island, for instance, a blue rectangle floats on a field of alternating red and yellow horizontal bands. In Astoria it is possible to see a stage beyond Coney Island, for in this work the geometrical forms have been overpainted to produce a design made up entirely of horizontal bands (Rubin 10).

In his early work, Stella was a practitioner of minimalism. Minimalism gained a foothold in the visual arts of painting and sculpture in the 1960's, standing as a formal strike against symbolism, narrative, and didactic works with blaring undertones of cultural and political commentary. Minimalists create abstract forms using fundamental shapes and primary colors, and their works express pure, simplistic approaches to aesthetics. These artists attempt to eliminate non essential distractions. Minimal art tries to separate the piece from the outside world, and the artist tries to maintain the identity of the artwork as a piece separate from the artist and viewer alike. Frank Stella's minimalistic qualities are apparent in his single-minded focus on elementary visual forms. His black, pin stripe paintings show him concentrating solely on line. He then takes a step further and incorporates rectangular notches into the same style of work. He then progresses to deal with the concept of the classic frame, experimenting with the same sets of stripes placed at various angles in various patterns. Stella later incorporates color into his work, but only primary or secondary monochromatic colors. Even later than that, Stella worked with the interactions of color, following Jasper's Dilemma. In his Sinjerli series, Stella works with interwoven circular and linear bands of color in a circle set inside a square. More recently, building on complexity, Stella addresses the issue of the shape of the ground by distorting it, as in his Waves, or in works connecting multiple planes of space ("Minimalism").

Stella's minimalism is more obvious in his early years and is apparent in some of his simplified works with basic shapes and metallic or flat enamel paints. Stella's wild use of illusions, movement, emotions, and the unified space of viewer and art stand as a break from the concepts of the truly conservative minimalists. However, by addressing color, line, frame, and special issues one at a time, Stella continues to act under the influence of the minimalist movement, experimenting with primary visual devices in the simplistic style of a true minimalist ("Minimalism").

In the early 1960s, Stella turned his attention from the shape on the canvas to the shape of the canvas, and in works like Marquis de Portago (1960), the canvas mimics the shapes it contains. The best known of Stella's early shaped canvas series is the "Protractor Series" from the late 1960's. The interlocking shapes show not only the use of a logical system to create a work of art, but also the artist's appreciation of Hiberno Celtic and Islamic art.

Stella was reacting in his 1960s work against certain aspects of Abstract Expressionism, and his box-and-stripe paintings were the beginning of this reaction. These pictures were still arrived at improvisationally, with considerable reworking as the boxes and stripes were painted out or readjusted in the composition to leave a residual impasto that was soon to disappear from Stella's pictorial vocabulary. Stella's emotional and critical reaction was against what he considered rhetorical in the Abstract Expressionist posture. One of the aspects of Abstract Expressionism that especially troubled Stella was the ambivalence that artists felt



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