Sunday, May 3

Frank Stella - William S Rubin

Part autobiography (though focusing almost solely on his work), part art history study, Frank Stella explores a decade of work by one of the few post-war American artists still creating art. Born in 1936, Frank Stella appeared on the New York art scene in 1958. After experimenting with linear colour he concentrated on contrasting black with white. His first series, "the Black Paintings," resemble fine pinstripes of white on a black background, though he rejects this description and they are in reality broad stripes of black that leave thin lines of unpainted canvas showing. He used house paint over artists' oils, and re-introduced colour a few years later, retaining the symmetry and geometry of this early work. Stella was the first artist to use shaped canvases as an integral part of the composition, and in the late sixties began creating the Protractor series, 71 paintings named for Middle Eastern cities and based on intersection arcs of colour within square boundaries.
I know very little about art, and generally don't get modern art. Several years ago, while researching a paper for my more artistic sister, I read a couple of books about modern art. Though dissimilar from one another, and quite different to my usual tastes (which include well known Renaissance artists, surrealists, and the works of Vettriano, Botero, Cooke and O'Keefe), two of the paintings grabbed my attention. They were both by Stella, one of the Black series (The Marriage of Reason and Squalor) and one of the Protractor series (one of the Sinjerli variations), and interested me enough to follow it up from time to time over the intervening years.
Frank Stella is a comprehensive text, enhanced by quotes from the artist and shaped by interviews the author had with him. It is difficult, with reproductions, to get a feel for the size of the works, and there are several pictures of pieces hanging in galleries, as well as one or two that include Stella, allowing the observer to see the impressive size of each canvas. It is unfortunate that many of the reproductions are in black and white when colour is such an integral part of much of his work, and this was particularly disappointing in the metallic section. All in all, though, I found Frank Stella to be a useful and interesting overview of the first part of this insufficiently well-known artists' work. - Alex

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