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Frank Stella

American Painter and Printmaker

Movements and Styles: Minimalism, Hard-edge Painting, Post-Painterly Abstraction

Born: May 12, 1936 - Malden, Massachusetts

Frank Stella Timeline

Important Art by Frank Stella

The below artworks are the most important by Frank Stella - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II (1959)
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The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II (1959)

Artwork description & Analysis: Belonging to the artist's groundbreaking series Black Paintings, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor is composed of black inverted parallel U-shapes containing stripes separated by thin lines of unpainted canvas. The repeated geometric pattern, in combination with the work's lack of figuration or expressive brushwork, prompts the viewer's recognition of it as a flat surface covered with paint, rather than a depiction of something else, upending the centuries-long concept of painting as window onto illusionistic three-dimensional space. The Black Paintings' stark simplicity, impersonal handling of the medium, and use of repeated geometric forms made them enormously influential on the emergence of Minimalism, whose practitioners likewise pursued the viewer's pure interaction with the art object. Along with three other of the Black Paintings, this work was included in the seminal MoMA exhibition Sixteen Americans. As if denying the painting's evocative title, Stella issued his famous maxim "What you see is what you see," in relation to this painting.

Enamel on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Harran II (1967)
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Harran II (1967)

Artwork description & Analysis: In his exploration of formal issues, Stella habitually worked in series, developing increasingly complicated variations on selected themes. In contrast to the monochrome Black Paintings, the Protractor series, to which Harran II belongs, deploys a vivid palette and composition consisting of rectangular shapes superimposed on curving and circular forms. As in The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, Harran II's stripes emphasize the flatness of the composition, reminding the viewer that a painting is merely canvas covered with paint. This concept is reinforced by the use of the shaped canvas, which, challenging the conventional rectangular format, further denies the painting's status as illusionistic window and enhances its "object-like" quality. Harran II - whose title comes from the name of an ancient city in Asia Minor - invites parallels with sculpture as well as architecture. Measuring a massive 10 x 20 feet, the work is architectural in scale, while its composition was based on the semicircular drafting tool for measuring and constructing angles.

Polymer and fluorescent polymer paint on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Michapol I (1971)
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Michapol I (1971)

Artwork description & Analysis: The shaped canvas recurs in the works of Stella's Polish Village series, to which Michapol I belongs. Each composition is developed from color variations and interlocking geometric forms influenced in part by Russian Constructivism. Also inspired by Polish synagogues of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, the works of the Polish Village series are large-scale collages, in which the artist pasted felt, paper, and wood onto the stretched canvas. Despite their sculptural qualities, Stella described the impulse behind Michapol I and the other works of the series as "pictorial."

Mixed media on canvas - The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Shoubeegi (1978)
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Shoubeegi (1978)

Artwork description & Analysis: The present piece is part of Stella's Indian Bird series, in which the artist further expanded the category of "painting." Stella deployed painted curlicue aluminum forms that jut out into the viewer's space - increasing the works' object-like nature and diminishing their appearance as paintings hanging on a wall. Stella's use of assembled parts and three-dimensional elements notwithstanding, he still regarded the Indian Bird series - at the time his most sculptural work - as consisting of paintings or painted reliefs. Seen by some at the time as "disco-like," the series' garishly colorful palette - produced by adhering particles of metal shaving or ground glass to a first layer of color, which were then painted or stained over - was also new to his oeuvre. Stella began the series during his 1977 stay in Ahmedabad, naming the individual works after birds found on the Indian subcontinent.

Enamel and glitter on metal - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

The Fountain (1992)
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The Fountain (1992)

Artwork description & Analysis: In the Fountain, Stella further explores the boundaries between artistic media. Although mural-sized, the piece - measuring 7 x 23 feet - is not a painting, but a print. The Fountain is Stella's most extensive work on paper to date and his culminating achievement in the medium of printmaking - a vital aspect of Stella's work since the 1960 - utilizing seven processes and sixty-one different colors. The piece belongs to a large, diverse series Stella created between 1985 and 1997 based on Herman Melville's Moby Dick. As such, for Stella it constitutes an homage of sorts to Abstract Expressionism, a number of whose artists also created works inspired by Ahab's epic struggle with the whale. Fittingly, and in keeping with the nonrepresentational nature of Stella's work, The Fountain is abstract, reflecting Stella's goal of conveying both a sense of motion and the power of the story, rather than the specific narrative.

Print, relief, intaglio, stencil, collage and hand-coloring - National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X (1998-2001)
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Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X (1998-2001)

Artwork description & Analysis: Given Stella's creation of numerous, at times large-scale, paintings with protruding three-dimensional elements, the production of freestanding sculptures or architectural structures might have seemed the next logical step for the artist. Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X is just that - a massive composition whose spiraling forms and clusters continues the visual lexicon of the artist's painterly reliefs. Sitting outside the National Gallery of Art, it is one of Stella's first monumental works - weighing in just under ten tons and measuring an enormous 31 x 39 x 34 feet. The title comes from the name of a play by the eighteenth-century German playwright Heinrich von Kleist about love and war.

Stainless steel, aluminum, painted fiberglass and carbon fiber - National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.



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Frank Stella Photo

Related Art and Artists

Mural (1943)
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Mural (1943)

Artist: Jackson Pollock

Artwork description & Analysis: Mural is an early tour de force in Pollock's career, a transition between his easel paintings and his signature drip canvases. This 'all over' painting technique was assimilated from a variety of sources: Picasso, Benton and Siqueiros, as well as Native American sand painting. Measuring nearly 8 x 20 ft, this was Pollock's first large-scale work, and was commissioned for Peggy Guggenheim's apartment. Although influenced by his earlier work in this format, Pollock struggled to control the composition. He incorporated decorative patterns in thinly brushed paint to achieve an intimate pattern within the grand scale. An apocryphal story exists that it was painted in one day and one night, though this is impossible given the quantity of layers in the picture. Gifted by Guggenheim to the University of Iowa Museum of Art in 1951, it was recently rescued from floodwaters in Des Moines.

Oil on canvas - University of Iowa Museum of Art, Des Moines

Vir heroicus sublimis (1950-51)
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Vir heroicus sublimis (1950-51)

Artist: Barnett Newman

Artwork description & Analysis: Translated as "Man, heroic and sublime," Vir heroicus sublimis was, at 95 by 213 inches, Newman's largest painting at the time it was completed, although he would go on to create even more expansive works. He intended his audiences to view this and other large paintings from a close vantage point, allowing the colors and zips to fully surround them. In this piece, which is more complex than it initially appears, Newman's zips are variously solid or wavering, creating a perfect square in the center and asymmetrical spaces on the perimeter. Mel Bochner, an artist associated with Conceptualism, remembered encountering it at the Museum of Modern Art in the late 1960s and realizing that its scale and color created a new kind of contact between the artwork and the viewer. "A woman standing there [looking at it]...was covered with red," he recalled. "I realized it was the light shining on the painting reflecting back, filling the space between the viewer and the artwork that created the space, the place. And that that reflection of the self of the painting, the painting as the subject reflected on the viewer, was a wholly new category of experience."

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Flag (1954-55)
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Flag (1954-55)

Artist: Jasper Johns

Artwork description & Analysis: This, Johns' first major work, broke from the Abstract Expressionist precedent of non-objective painting with his representation of a recognizable everyday object - the American flag. Johns built the flag from a dynamic surface made up of shreds of newspaper dipped in encaustic - with snippets of text still visible through the wax - rather than oil paint applied to the canvas with a brush. As the molten, pigmented wax cooled, it fixed the scraps of newspaper in visually distinct marks that evoked the gestural brushwork of the Abstract Expressionists of the previous decade. The frozen encaustic embodied Johns' interest in semiotics by quoting the "brushstroke" of the action painters as a symbol for artistic expression, rather than a direct mode of expression, as part of his career-long investigation into "how we see and why we see the way we do."

The symbol of the American flag, to this day, carries a host of connotations and meanings that shift from individual to individual, making it the ideal subject for Johns' initial foray into visually exploring the "things the mind already knows." He intentionally blurred the lines between high art and everyday life with his choice of seemingly mundane subject matter. Johns painted Flag in the context of the McCarthy witch-hunts in Cold War America. Then and now, some viewers will read national pride or freedom in the image, while others only see imperialism or oppression. Johns was one of the first artists to present viewers with the dichotomies embedded in the American flag. Johns referred to his paintings as "facts" and did not provide predetermined interpretations of his work; when critics asked Johns if the work was a painted flag, or a flag painting, he said it was both. As with other Neo-Dada works, the meaning of the artwork is determined by the viewer, not the artist.

Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

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Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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