A Report On Frank Stellas Work Art Essay


Frank Stella's work has been the product of an artist whose visual aesthetic and methodology has undergone great change throughout his career. Despite these changes, however, he retains a strong Formalist drive evident in his unflinching desire to create art that is entirely self-contained and self-referential in order to communicate to the viewer on a completely visual level. It is Stella's connection to Formalism that will be the focus of this essay and will be examined in relation to the views and ideas presented by four different authors. Clearwater's publication, Frank Stella at 2000, (2000), looks at how Stella's work is self-contained and put itself across to the viewer. In the publication Frank Stella 1970-1987, (1987), Rubin looks further at how Stella ensures his work remains self-referential as well as the way in which he develops his formal concepts. Galenson and Weinberg in the article Age and the Quality of Work, (2000), make reference to Stella's work as an advance upon the work of past Formalist artists and looks at how Stella's work was to be interpreted. Finally, the article Frank Stella: Works 1970-1987, (1988), by Kingsley, argues that it is impossible for an artist such as Stella to create work that held no external references. There are two key arguments here, that which relates to Stella's visual style, and the question of whether or not his work holds any connection to the world around him.

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The two vital parts of Stella's work are based around his idea of how shape and composition should be treated in an artwork, or quite possibly, as the artwork. Rubin (1978 p.117) explains that for Stella, he hoped ‘that the shapes are speaking to the viewer as shapes', instead of ‘imagistic symbols he or others might use as verbal conveniences in referring to them'. Two strong examples of Stella's mindset towards shapes and their use are to be found in Chodorow II (Fig. 1) and Narowla II (Fig. 2), as both works make it clear that expressing these shapes are their sole purpose.
Clearwater (2000, p.11) explains Stella's desire to keep his painting impersonal by the removal of drawing. This was in order to keep the viewer focused on the painting itself, or more specifically, its materialistic quality. Galenson and Weinberg (2000, p.767) quote Stella as saying ‘my painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there.... What you see is what you see'. Clearwater (2000, p.27) explains this further in saying that for Stella's work ‘what you see is how you comprehend what you see'. This very neatly draws a line straight back to Stella's Formalist connections, as what a viewer sees is only what Stella has placed there to be seen, and thus it can be understood as simply shape, colour, tone and texture. Die Hielge Cacile oder die Gewalt de Musik (Fig. 3) is an excellent example of this, as the viewer does not see connections to the familiar world around them, they see what they can only understand as a visual entity. It is by understanding this that they will ‘comprehend' it, for its Formalist purpose

One of the most debatable aspects of Stella's work in relation to Formalism, is that of its connection to the outside world and thus to himself and his emotional life. As Formalism places no value on these connections and the fact that Frank Stella himself dismissed these ‘humanistic values' (Stilez and Selz, 1996, p.121), thinking of ‘a painting as an object that makes no reference to anything outside itself' (Clearwater, 2000, p.8), it would seem that this connection should be absent in his work. Stella also states, as quoted by Galenson and Weinberg (2000, p.767) that he ‘insisted' that his work did not hold any symbolic meanings. Kingsley (1988, p.315), however, argues that it was impossible to deny a connection between Stella's life and his work during certain periods. Despite Stella's denial of this connection and thus his entirely Formalist view of art, Kingsley sees that Stella's work did in fact have ties to the events in his life, particularly evident in his connection to motorsport.

...surely it is not too far fetched to see a connection between Stella's life at a time of intense involvement with racing cars and their drivers, and the explosively fragmented, high-impacted look of Stella's work after the mid-seventies. (Kingsley, p.315)

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This quote of Kingsley's is relating to the contrast in visual style between pre-1975 works such as the previously mentioned Norowla II (1971) (Fig. 1) and later works such as those from his Circuits series, for example, Mosport (1982) (Fig. 4) and Nogaro (1984) (Fig. 5) which were even named after race tracks. This seems very much to be related to the change of environment mentioned by Kingsley. Though none of the other authors present a particularly strong viewpoint on this issue, Clearwater (2000, p.8), for example, speaks about how Stella wanted to avoid the painting recording his effort in its creation as well as eliminating the personal touch as much as possible in order to focus on the image itself. Perhaps Stella did draw inspiration from his environment in order to create his visual style, but he did remain faithful to his Formalist drive to avoid visual symbolism and representationalism that led the viewer to real-world connections.

The authors discussed have presented multiple common Formalist elements existing within Stella's work. Clearwater, Rubin and Weinberg and Galenson, all see Stella's work as self-contained and self-referential. Clearwater and Rubin both state that his work was based around the idea of artwork's value being contained within what the viewer could see before them in the work itself. It is only Kingsley that presents the argument of Stella's visual style connecting to his emotional life, which while going against Formalist values, does not lead his work away from Formalism itself, it simply helps to explain a change in visual style. The essence of what Formalism represents, a complete focus on the visual product as self-contained entity is seen throughout Stella's work and principle of art. This is evident through his exclusion of the recognisable and symbolic, use of shapes as a means of defining a painting or the literal approach he took to a work's visual value.

References Books

Rubin W, 1987, Frank Stella 1970-1987, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

Clearwater B, 2000, Frank Stella - at Two Thousand - Changing The Rules, Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Florida

Journal Articles

Frank Stella: Works 1970-1987. Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum
Author(s): April Kingsley
Source: The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 130, No. 1021, Special issue on Twentieth-Century Art (Apr., 1988), pp. 315-316
Published by: The Burlington Magazine Publications, Ltd. S
table URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/883299
Accessed: 08/04/2010 02:30

Review: Orthodox Formalism and the Metaphysics of Pictorialism
Author(s): T. R. Quigley
Reviewed work(s): Working Space (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures: 1983-84) by Frank Stella
Source: The Kenyon Review, New Series, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 146-150 Published by: Kenyon College
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4335888
Accessed: 08/04/2010 02:38

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Lynne Cooke
Reviewed work(s): Working Space by Frank Stella
Source: The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 129, No. 1009 (Apr., 1987), p. 258
Published by: The Burlington Magazine Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/883044 Accessed: 08/04/2010 02:54

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Gijs van Hensbergen
Reviewed work(s): The Prints of Frank Stella: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1967-1982 by Richard H. Axsom
Source: The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 126, No. 971, Special Issue Devoted to Twentieth- Century Art (Feb., 1984), pp. 100-101
Published by: The Burlington Magazine Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/881484
Accessed: 08/04/2010 03:14

Authors: Harry Cooper and Megan R Luke Yale University Press/Harvard University Art Museums 2006 d22.50 $34.95 (P) 152 pp. 60 col/18 mono illus
ISBN 13: 978-0-300-10917-7 (p)
2006 the authors. journal compilation r 2006 bpl/aah volume 13 issue 4 The Art Book 47
Accessed 09/04/10

Age and the Quality of Work: The Case of Modern American Painters
Author(s): David W. Galenson and Bruce A. Weinberg
Source: The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 108, No. 4 (Aug., 2000), pp. 761-777
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3078432
Accessed: 09/04/2010 08:25

Albers and Stella
Author(s): Mary Laura Gibbs
Source: Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, Vol. 31, No. 1 (1972), pp. 8-11
Published by: Princeton University Art Museum
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3774563
Accessed: 11/04/2010 05:44


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Examples of our work

Chodorow II. (1971)
Mixed media on canvas
274.4 x 269.4 cm

Narowla II. (1971)
Mixed media on canvas
274.4 x 264.2 cm

Mosport, 4.75x (Second Version, 1982)
Mixed media on etched magnesium,
289.6 x 321.4 x 61 cm

Steller's albatross, 5.5x (1976)
Mixed media on aluminium,
304.8 x 419.1 cm

Nogaro, 4.75x. (Third Version, 1984)
Mixed media on etched magnesium,
292.1 x 304.8 x 55.9 cm

Jacques le fataliste (1974)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
343 x 343 cm

Jungli kowwa, 5.5 x. (1978)
Mixed media on aluminium, metal tubing, and wire mesh
218.5 x 259.1 x 96.6 cm)

Flin Flon (1970)
Polymer and fluorescent polymer paint on canvas
108” x 108”

Severambia (1996
Mixed media on freestanding fibreglass wall
120 x 480 x 360 in

Die heilge Cacile oder die Gewalt de Musik (1998)
Acrylic paint on canvas, 5 panels
125 x 478 in