Frank Stella

Frank Stella (1936, Malden, MA, USA).
Lives and works in New York, NY, USA.

Frank Stella is one of the most important American artists of all time, a defining figure of abstract art whose work has been at the forefront of minimalism, post-painterly abstraction and public art for over seven decades.

He studied painting at Phillips Academy in Andover and Princeton University, graduating in 1958 with a degree in history. After his graduation, Stella moved to New York and completed his groundbreaking series of monochromatic pinstriped paintings called The Black Paintings. Regarded as a precursor to Minimalism, these paintings garnered immediate recognition: four were included in New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s Sixteen Americans exhibition in 1959 alongside the works by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Alfred Barr, the museum’s director, purchased the paintings for the permanent collection shortly thereafter.

Stella reacted against the expressive use of paint by most painters of the abstract expressionist movement, instead finding himself drawn towards the “flatter” surfaces of Barnett Newman’s work and the “target” paintings of Jasper Johns. He began to produce works that emphasized the picture-as-object, rather than the picture as a representation of something, be it something in the physical world, or something in the artist’s emotional world.

He has worked consistently in series, pioneering new approaches to form, color, narrative and abstraction.

In 1960s, Stella started to use canvases of different shapes, such as ovals and V-shapes instead of the traditional rectangle. He also began to use a wider range of colors, typically arranged in straight or curved lines.

His earliest series of shaped paintings called The Aluminum Paintings were exhibited in his first solo show at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1960, when he joined artists represented by gallery founded by the renowned art dealer Leo Castelli. The very next year, his works were exhibited abroad for the first time at Galerie Lawrence in Paris.

In the mid-1960s, Stella began his extended engagement with printmaking, producing a series of abstract prints in various techniques, such as lithography, screen printing, etching and offset lithography. In 1967, he designed the set and costumes for Scramble, a dance piece by Merce Cunningham.

Stella’s art was recognized for its innovation before he was 25. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, his work was included in a number of significant exhibitions that proved to define the art of the time, among them The Shaped Canvas and Systemic Painting at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1964–65 and 1966, respectively. In 1970, at the age of 34, Stella became the youngest artist to receive a full-scale retrospective at MoMA. He received a second retrospective at that institution in 1987 — an unprecedented occurrence in the museum’s history.

In the 1970s, Stella introduced relief into his art, which he came to call “maximalist” painting for its sculptural qualities, also introducing wood, aluminum, fiberglass and other materials. His work became more three-dimensional, to the point where he started producing large, free-standing metal pieces, which, although they are painted, might well be considered sculpture.

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, Stella created a large body of work that responded to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: a set of 266 painted metal reliefs, collages, sculptures, prints and a block-long mural (at least one unique work for each of the 138 chapters of Melville’s novel). During this time, the increasingly deep relief of his paintings gave way to full three-dimensionality. To make these works, the artist used collages or maquettes that were enlarged and recreated using industrial metal cutters and digital technologies.

In the 1990s, Stella began making free-standing sculptures for public spaces and developing architectural projects. In 1992 and 1993, he painted over 10,000 square feet of murals that run throughout Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theater and are believed to be one of the largest mural installations of modern times. In 1997, Frank Stella created Euphonia, more than 6,000 square feet of mural painting that decorates the entrance wall and ceiling of the University of Houston’s Moores Opera Center. One of his largest outdoor sculptures, Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X, was completed and installed in 2001 at the National Gallery of Art (Washington DC, USA).

Stella pushed the boundaries of post-war modern art and abstraction. His painting surfaces have changed a lot over the years. Flat paintings gave way to giant collages. They turned into sculpture and then headed in the direction of architecture. Through the years, Stella has experimented with various color palettes, canvases and mediums. He moved from Minimalism to Maximalism, adopting new techniques and using bold colors, shapes and curving forms.

He developed his own unique style, which over the years became more complex and flamboyant. From the geometric forms and simple lines of his early works to vibrant colors, dynamic and curved shapes, complex networks of line and 3-D designs of his baroque and even fantastical late pieces, Stella continues creating revolutionary and groundbreaking art.

Stella is the author of many essays and articles exploring painting and abstract art in particular. He has been the recipient of a great many honors and awards internationally and 2009 he received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.

Stella has exhibited his work internationally since 1959 and has been the subject of several retrospectives, most recently in 2015 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, (New York, NY, USA). In 2000, he became the only American artist to be given a solo show at London’s Royal Academy.

Stella’s work in held in major museum collections worldwide including, the Tate (London, UK), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, USA), Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) (New York, NY, USA), Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice, Italy), Kunstmuseum Basel (Basel, Switzerland), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY, USA), Art Institute of Chicago (Illinois, USA), Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA, USA), Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art, Japan, and others.

Frank Stella

  • Frank Stella - The Duel B

    The Duel B
    Acrylic on canvas
    473 x 440 cm

  • Frank Stella - The Duel E

    The Duel E
    Acrylic on canvas
    485x 466 cm