- Stella, Frank
▪ 2002After keeping a low profile throughout the 1990s, American artist Frank Stella returned to the limelight in a big way, with large public sculptures. In 2001 the 65-year-old completed work on The Prince of Homburg, a massive mostly metal sculpture for the plaza outside the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The 9,100-kg (20,000-lb) piece followed on the heels of public art murals for the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto (1992–93), designs for a museum addition in Dresden, Ger., and a bandshell in Miami, Fla. A pioneer of Minimalism in the 1960s, Stella traced a gradual arc from the stark flatness of his first paintings, through three-dimensional constructions, and finally to architecture. All the while, though, he continued to sharpen the cutting edge of modern art with innovative work upheld by sound theories.Stella was born on May 12, 1936, in Malden, Mass. He was educated at Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., and at Princeton University (B.A., 1958), where he was taught appreciation for the reigning New York school of Abstract Expressionism by Stephen Greene and William Seitz. After graduation Stella moved to New York City and became an instant sensation when his paintings appeared in a group show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1959–60. His “black paintings” were shockingly two dimensional: cruciform stripes of common black house paint bordered by narrow strips of raw canvas. Inspired by the object-oriented work of Jasper Johns and troubled by what he saw as growing ambiguity in Abstract Expressionism, Stella promoted a Gestalt theory of “What you see is what you see” that became the credo for Minimalism, which rejected illusionism, narrative, and symbolism, and he concentrated on fundamental shapes of primary colours. In exhibits at the influential Leo Castelli Gallery, Stella helped minimalism eclipse Action painting to become (along with Pop art) the driving force of the New York school by the mid-1960s.Stella furthered his nonobjective aesthetic by achieving greater flatness through the use of aluminum paints and by notching his rectangular canvases so that no negative space appeared. He was one of the first artists to use shaped canvases. He explored colour and shape with the Benjamin Moore series (1961), Concentric Square series (1963), and Irregular Polygon series (1966), culminating with the Protractor series (1967–69). Never bound by the movement he helped launch, Stella shifted to a larger colour field with Irregular Polygons (1966–67) and Polish Village (1971–73). He edged toward sculpture with the “maximalist” protrusive relief series of the 1970s: Brazilian (1974–75), Exotic Bird (1976–80), and Indian Bird (1977–79). This period also introduced the French curve into Stella's art, a dominant feature in his later work.While visiting Rome in 1982–83, Stella was taken with the historical Baroque response to the decline of Renaissance art, particularly through artists such as Caravaggio, and he sought to revive abstract art in the same manner. He gave a series of lectures at Harvard University, later published as Working Space (1986), and created a group of Baroque-influenced abstract paintings called Circuit and Shards (1983), which was followed by the Cones and Pillars series (1987); the latter showed Stella toying with illusionism and spatial dynamics. He was the subject of two retrospectives by the Museum of Modern Art (1970, 1987) and was the only American to mount a solo show in 2000 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.Tom Michael
* * *▪ American artistin full Frank Philip Stellaborn May 12, 1936, Malden, Mass., U.S.American painter, a leading figure in the Minimal art movement.Stella studied painting at the Phillips Academy and history at Princeton University (B.A., 1958). He originally painted in an Abstract Expressionist style, but upon moving to New York City in the late 1950s, he began work on a series of innovative paintings marked by an austere and monumental simplicity of design. These “black paintings,” which established his reputation, incorporated symmetrical series of thin white stripes that replicated the canvas shape when seen against their black backgrounds. In the early 1960s Stella painted a series of progressively more complex variations on the theme of the frame-determined design and used both metallic-coloured paints and irregularly shaped canvases to this purpose. In the mid-1960s Stella began using polychromy in an influential series of paintings marked by intersecting geometric and curvilinear shapes and plays of vivid and harmonious colours, some of which were fluorescent.In the late 1970s Stella broke with the hard-edged style of his previous work and began to produce sensuously coloured mixed-media reliefs that featured arabesques, French curves, and other organic shapes.
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