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Artists Frank Stella
Frank Stella Photo

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


"What you see is what you see."
Frank Stella
"A sculpture is just a painting cut out and stood up somewhere."
Frank Stella
"Making art is complicated because the categories are always changing. You just have to make your own art, and whatever categories it falls into will come later."
Frank Stella
"I think that many gestures artists make, gestures that seem casual and improbable but surprisingly effective in making art, can be made available to architecture."
Frank Stella
"Painting is a flat surface with paint on it."
Frank Stella
"You can only take advantage of those gifts that you really have - that are part of your character, and you're lucky to be born with those gifts. I have a gift for structure, and the strength of all the paintings I made in the sixties lay in their organization, their sense of what pictorial structure could be."
Frank Stella
"The crisis of abstraction followed from its having become mired in the sense of its own materiality, the sense that the materials of painting could and should dictate its nature. That's not enough, and the belief that it was killing painting."
Frank Stella

"I like real art. It's difficult to define REAL but it is the best word for describing what I like to get out of art and what the best art has. It has the ability to convince you that it's present - that it's there. You could say it's authentic... but real is actually a better word, broad as it may be."

Frank Stella Signature


In 1959, Frank Stella gained early, immediate recognition with his series of coolly impersonal black striped paintings that turned the gestural brushwork and existential angst of Abstract Expressionism on its head. Focusing on the formal elements of art-making, Stella went on to create increasingly complicated work that seemed to follow a natural progression of dynamism, tactility, and scale: first, by expanding his initial monochrome palette to bright colors, and, later, moving painting into the third dimension through the incorporation of other, non-painterly elements onto the canvas. He ultimately went on to create large-scale freestanding sculptures, architectural structures, and the most complex work ever realized in the medium of printmaking. Stella's virtually relentless experimentation has made him a key figure in American modernism, helping give rise to such developments as Minimalism, Post-Painterly Abstraction, and Color Field Painting.

Key Ideas

A decisive departure from Abstract Expressionism, Stella's Black Paintings series consists of precisely delineated parallel black stripes produced by smoothly applied house paint. The striped pattern serves as a regulating system that, in Stella's words, forced "illusionistic space out of the painting at a constant rate." This device was intended to emphasize the flatness of the canvas and prompt the viewer's awareness of painting as a two-dimensional surface covered with paint - thereby overturning the notion of painting as window onto three-dimensional space that emerged in the Renaissance and dominated the medium for many centuries thereafter.
Created according to a predetermined, circumscribed system imposed by the artist, the Black Paintings served as an important catalyst for Minimalist art of the 1960s. Similar to Stella's parallel stripes and smooth handling of paint, Minimalist artists created abstract works characterized by the use of repeated geometric, industrial-appearing shapes stripped of all thematic or emotional content.
Stella was an early practitioner of nonrepresentational painting, rather than artwork alluding to underlying meanings, emotions, or narratives, and has remained one to this day. Working according to the principle of "line, plane, volume, and point, within space," Stella focuses on the basic elements of an artwork - color, shape, and composition. Over time, Stella succeeded in dismantling the devices of three-dimensional illusionism; his shaped canvases underscored the "object-like" nature of a painting, while his asymmetrical Irregular Polygons explored the tension between the arrangement of colors on the flat surface of the canvas as well as the optical effect of the advancing and receding forms.
Baroque artists such as the early-17th-century Italian painter Caravaggio developed illusionistic "tricks" that convincingly suggested that their subjects emerged out of the canvas and into the space of the viewer. Several centuries later, Stella took such innovations one step further by literally extending painting into the third dimension in his painterly reliefs, which entered the viewer's space with their incorporation of protruding materials.


Frank Stella Photo


Frank Stella was born the oldest of three children to first-generation Italian-American parents. In his sophomore year of high school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he began learning to paint from the abstractionist Patrick Morgan, who taught there. Stella continued taking art courses at Princeton University, while earning a degree in history. His Princeton professors, painter Stephen Greene and art historian William Seitz, introduced Stella to the New York art world by bringing him to exhibitions in the city, thereby shaping his earliest artistic aesthetic.

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Frank Stella Biography Continues

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)
Artwork Images

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)
Artwork Images

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)
Artwork Images

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 17th through the 19th 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

More Frank Stella Artwork and Analysis:

Shoubeegi (1978) The Fountain (1992) Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X (1998-2001)

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Frank Stella
Interactive chart with Frank Stella's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Barnett NewmanBarnett Newman
Jasper JohnsJasper Johns
Hans HofmannHans Hofmann

Personal Contacts

Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg
Richard MeierRichard Meier
Philip JohnsonPhilip Johnson


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting
Pop ArtPop Art

Influences on Artist
Frank Stella
Frank Stella
Years Worked: 1958 - Present
Influenced by Artist


Frank GehryFrank Gehry
Daniel LibeskindDaniel Libeskind
Sol LeWittSol LeWitt
Dan FlavinDan Flavin

Personal Contacts

Donald JuddDonald Judd
Carl AndreCarl Andre


Post-Painterly AbstractionPost-Painterly Abstraction

Useful Resources on Frank Stella







The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Frank Stella: American Abstract Artist

By James Pearson

Frank Stella: The Museum of Modern Art Recomended resource

By William S. Rubin

Three American Painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella Recomended resource

By Michael Fried

More Interesting Books about Frank Stella
American Artists Must Fight for Resale Rights Recomended resource

By Frank Stella
The Art Newspaper
August 4, 2011

Sightlines: Frank Stella Recomended resource

WSJ. Magazine
March 15, 2010

Abstraction Without Boundaries

By Donald Kuspit
November 3, 2009

Art in Review; Frank Stella: Polychrome Relief at Paul Kasmin Gallery

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
October 30, 2009

More Interesting Articles about Frank Stella
Frank Stella on Painting and Art Recomended resource

On Point with Tom Ashbrook
WBUR Boston
May 25, 2011


Frank Stella interview: the bigger picture

By Alastair Sooke
The Telegraph (UK)
September 24, 2011

Frank Stella Recomended resource

By Saul Ostrow
Spring 2000

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Cite this page

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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