One of the most iconic figures that emerged from the post-World War II American art, Frank Stella is a painter and a printmaker whose influential work is considered to be crucial to the generations of artists that moved beyond Abstract Expressionism. Abandoning the concepts of this relatively loose movement, Stella set his creative course down the path of Minimalism, playing a major role in writing out one of the most important late 20th century chapters in 20th century art. Frank went through many phases and stages during his career, from his banishments of symbols to his image reductions to his strict geometric forms. However, all Stella did can be linked to his famous and playful saying that can easily describe every single piece of art Frank ever created: What you see is what you see. This is often considered to be the unofficial credo firmly standing behind the conceptual basis of all the varied Stella’s art making practices.
Frank Stella was born during the year of 1936 in Malden, a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. His family was of an Italian descent. Although Frank’s father was a gynecologist and had no particular affection towards creativity, Stella’s mother was an artistically inclined housewife who attended fashion school and later took up landscape painting. Her influence will prove to be of great use for the young author during the times he was forming his own visual vocabulary. Whilst still attending classes at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Frank learned about abstract modernists Josef Albers and Hans Hofmann. This experience inspired him to pursue an artistic career and, with that goal in mind, Stella enrolled with the Princeton University where he majored in history and met the likes of Darby Bannard and Michael Fried. The young artist started visiting New York on a regular basis, frequently touring through local galleries that truly fostered his initial artistic development. After he graduated and received his diploma, Frank moved completely to The Big Apple in the year of 1958. Three years later, he married Barbara Rose, a woman that will later become a well-respected art critic.
Early on, Frank Stella’s visual vocabulary was heavily shaped by the influences of the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. Right from the very start, he reacted against the popular expressive use of paint by most artists of the abstract expressionist movement, instead claiming that opting for flatter surfaces normally found in the arsenal of Barnett Newman or Jasper Johns. Furthermore, he insisted that the painting is nothing more than a flat surface with some paint on it, completely avoiding any symbolic qualities that some believed are the essential core of the painterly compositions. Such an approach led Stella down a very minimalistic path, as evidenced by his Black Paintings series. In these, regular bands of black paint were separated by very thin pinstripes of unpainted canvas, as the case is with the Die Fahne Hoch! (1959) piece. Besides being the perfect indicator of the author’s style, this painting is also believed to be linked to the famous American flags project of Jasper Jones. Emotional coolness was what separated him from the majority of his contemporary colleagues and is the exact reason why he was so well received by the public. It should also be noted that Stella’s art was recognized for its innovations before the author turned the age of twenty-five, meaning that Frank was forced to withstand heavy expectations and pressures when he was still a very young man.
Starting with the year of 1960, Stella began to produce paintings in aluminum and copper paint, introducing a variety of new and refreshing factors to his work. However, these pieces all followed the conceptual lead of his earlier works, although they did use a lot more colors than their predecessors. These paintings were also the first ones for which the artist used shaped canvases that avoided the traditional rectangle and square forms. These surfaces were oftentimes in the shape of letters, usually the L, N, U or T-shapes. As he matured, Frank turned these into much more elaborate designs, as exampled by the 1967’s series titled simply as The Polygon. Stella began his extended engagement with printmaking in the mid-1960s as well. He utilized a wide range of printmaking techniques, including lithography, screenprinting, etching and the offset lithography. In 1970, The Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a retrospective of Stella’s work and he became the youngest author to receive this kind of recognition. During the following decade, Stella also introduced elements of relief into his art – these he came to call maximalist paintings for their unique sculptural qualities and visuals. The 1990s and the 2000s were marked by the continuation of experimentation as Frank never ceased to test the boundaries of materials, three-dimensionality and forms. Stella also began making free-standing sculptures for public spaces and even developing architectural projects from time to time.
What Frank Stella ultimately managed to achieve, what makes him so invaluable to all of art, is the fact he was able to make paintings in which pictorial force came not from symbolic meanings but from the very materiality of the piece. Such a contribution to the neo avant-garde currents of the 20th-century makes this author arguably one of the most important living American authors. Stella has a specific relationship with all the pieces he made and dedicated much of his efforts to explaining this correlation. Without wanting to give our interpretation, we prefer to quote Stella himself and allow the artist to both have the last say in this article and explain in his own words his own art: No art is any good unless you can feel how it’s put together. By and large it’s the eye, the hand and if it’s any good, you feel the body. Most of the best stuff seems to be a complete gesture, the totality of the artist’s body; you can really lean on it.
This artist is represented by Galerie Thalberg Zurich, Freedman Art New York, Gregg Shienbaum Fine Art Miami, Woodward Gallery New York, Puccio Fine Art and The Jane Kahan Gallery New York.
Featured image: Frank Stella – Photo of the artist – Image via observer.com
All images used for illustrative purposes only.
Christie's New York, New York, New York, United States, 20 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020, USA
Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), California, Los Angeles, United States, 16145 Hart St, Van Nuys, United States
|2017||Serielle Formationen||Daimler Contemporary, Berlin||Group|
|2017||Frank Stella - The Kenneth Tyler Print Collection||National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT||Group|
|2017||Shadow & Space||Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation, Chicago, IL||Group|
|2017||Fény,Szín,Forma-Polikróm harmóniák (Light, Color,Form - Polychrome Harmonies)||Modern Gallery, László Vass Collection, Veszprém||Group|
|2016||Frank Stella||Leila Heller Gallery - Dubai, Dubai||Solo|
|2016||Frank Stella||Sprüth Magers Berlin, Berlin||Solo|
|2016||Frank Stella||Hiram Butler Gallery, Houston, TX||Solo|
|2015||Frank Stella - Early Traces||Alden Projects, New York City, NY||Solo|
|2015||Frank Stella: A Retrospective||Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NY||Solo|
|2015||Frank Stella||Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago||Solo|
|2014n||Retrospective||Organized by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX; Traveling to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Whitney Museum of American Art, Downtown Renzo Piano Building, New York, NY||Solo|
|2013||Pictures of Nothing||The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Poughkeepsie, NY||Group|
|2012||Frank Stella||Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg||Group|
|2012||The 1960s||The University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Lethbridge, Alberta||Group|
|2011||Frank Stella - Geometric Variations||Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York City, NY||Group|
|2011||Frank Stella - Polychrome Reliefs und Prints||alerie der Stadt Tuttlingen, Tuttlingen||Group|
|2010||Frank Stella: Irregular Polygons||Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, NH||Group|
|2009||Frank Stella - Exotic Birds, 1976||L&M Arts, New York, New York City, NY||Group|
|2009||Frank Stella - Polychrome Relieff||Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York City, NY||Group|
|2008||Frank Stella Prints, 1980-2008||Loretta Howard Gallery, New York City, NY||Group|
|2008||Frank Stella: K Series||Loretta Howard Gallery, New York City, NY||Group|
|2007||Frank Stella||Galerie Haas & Fuchs - Berlin, Berlin||Group|
|2007||Frank Stella||Peter Freeman, Inc., New York City, NY||Group|
|2006||Frank Stella||Major Work from the von Kleist Series - Danese, New York City, NY||Group|
|2006||Frank Stella: Working Collages||Loretta Howard Gallery, New York City, NY||Group|
|2005||Frank Stella - Die Marquise von O||Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris||Group|
|2005||Frank Stella - Recent Work||John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA||Group|
|2004||Frank Stella: The Marquise of O Paintings||Loretta Howard Gallery, New York City, NY||Group|
|2004||Frank Stella - A Breakthrough In Abstraction - Exotic Birds||Gagosian Gallery , New York City, NY||Group|
|2003||Frank Stella||Iwate Museum of Art, Morioka||Group|
|2003||Frank Stella||The Nagoya City Art Museum, Nagoya||Group|
|2002||A Bold Experiment: Ken Tyler and the Printed Image||UMMA - The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI||Group|
|2002||Frank Stella - Hacilar 1999-2001||Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, New York City, NY||Group|
|2001||Frank Stella - Heinrich von Kleist by Frank Stella||Akira Ikeda - Berlin, Berlin||Group|
|2001||Frank Stella||Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Stanford, CA||Group|
|2000||Frank Stella at 2000: Changing the Rules||Museum of Contemporary Art Miami, Miami, FL||Group|
|1999||Abstraction||Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris, France||Group|
|1999||Frank Stella: Easel Paintings||Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, UK||Solo|
|1998||Frank Stella: New Paintings||Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, UK||Solo|
|1997||Untitled||Samuelis Baumgarte Galerie, Bielefeld, Germany||Group|
|1987||Retrospective||Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY||Solo|
|1970||Retrospective||Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY||Solo|