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Frank Stella

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Frank Stella
(Malden, Masschusetts, 1936 - )

The full breath and power of expression that is abstraction in the twentieth century is embodied in the art of Frank Stella. Unfolding like a visual symphony over the past four decades, his work is transfigured—from the opening movement of ascetic minimalism in the 1960s to the resounding, full-blown crescendo of color and textural improvisation in the 1980s and 90s. And although he initially achieved recognition in the early 1960s as a painter, Stella’s accomplishments as a printmaker over the ensuing three decades assured his position as one of the preeminent printmakers of his generation. He and his associated printers introduced innovative approaches to printmaking that revolutionized the media. Eventually, Stella’s prints came to match his painted constructions in ambitiousness of scale, technical virtuosity and dramatic spectacle. It was the opportunity to work with the master printer Kenneth Tyler that prompted Stella to begin making prints in 1967. Tyler was one of the prime movers in the effort to revive fine art lithography in the United States in the late 1950s. He trained at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop and in 1965 set up his own print studio, Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles. Entering into the printmaking arena at the age of thirty-one—long after contemporaries such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg had commenced their careers as painter/printmakers—Stella was, at first, ambivalent at best. He took up printmaking without much interest in the technical process but intrigued by the media’s potential for achieving new visual interpretations of his imagery. The artist’s efforts in printmaking initially paralleled the progression of his work on canvas, and indeed, the first prints expanded upon the spatial concepts in his “stripe” paintings executed between 1958 and 1963. Stella has traditionally worked through compositional issues in his art by creating series that exhibit a progression of combinations of shapes, colors and textures. In paintings that he created between 1967 and 1970, the artist used the protractor as the basis for the geometric designs of some of his most famous images. Experimentation with the stripes in paintings and prints led to Stella’s ordering of color and the geometry of the square in the series Concentric Squares and Mitered Mazes. Printmaking played an increasingly important role in Stella’s art life as he entered the middle phase of his career. Reversing the minimal approach of the 1960s, the artist painted large-scale, three-dimensional constructions of luxuriant color and texture. His experiences with the printers at Tyler Graphics and Petersburg Press inspired him to carry his pictorial ideas beyond the series paintings and constructions he was making into the various printed media, all the while exploring new territory in technique and visual effect. Because of his increasing interest, and the encouragement of his printers, the initially reluctant printmaker became a prolific one. Between 1967 and 1980 he produced 118 editions, and in the following four years he made another thirty, each of these series inspired by other works, but not directly repeating their imagery. In Stella’s later prints, process plays an important role as ideas are invented, re-invented and re-worked, frequently resulting in the creation of related, but separate, series. In his prints of the eighties and nineties, he explored the character of line and curve in two and three dimensions. With his painted metal reliefs he broke the traditional subject/ground relationship and constructed integrated, three-dimensional objects that explode from the wall in a riot of movement and color. The remnants of metal sheets that were cut and etched for wall reliefs presented the idea for other large-scale compositions. The scarred surfaces of these magnesium “skins” were designed to impart texture to the painted surfaces of the wall reliefs, but their highly worked character also suggested the possibility of their use as printing matrix. Stella enjoyed an outstanding relationship with the printers of Tyler Graphics and with a second print workshop, Petersburg Press. In their turn, each of the printers who have worked with Stella have risen to the challenge of interpreting, inventing, and adapting their craft to the vision of this extraordinarily productive artist. Jointly their innovations created a new world in printmaking in the last half of the twentieth century. Text excerpted from "Frank Stella: A Collection of Prints, 1967-1995. From the Collection of William P. Hood, Jr. and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts". Montgomery, Alabama: The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, 1996.

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