About the work:
Frank Stella is one of the most highly regarded post-war American artists still working today. He is a rule-breaker, interested in furthering the History of Art by constantly and deliberately taking us down new paths.
Upon moving to New York after his studies at Princeton, Stella was first inspired by the Abstract Expressionists, but also by the ‘flat’ works of Barnett Newman. It was however, the paintings of Jasper Johns, exhibited at Leo Castelli’s famed gallery in 1958, that lead Stella to start using his now-trademark stripes as a compositional tool. The controlled minimalist works are among his most recognizable. Stella didn’t change the course of Art History simply through his study and use of a radically different style, he also approached diverse materials in a revolutionary way.
Frank Stella’s first experience in painting was re-coating houses and boats, and he would continue to paint houses after his move to NY to make ends meet. Over the course of his 60-plus-year career, Stella would regularly revisit unmixed house and car paint in addition to using house-painter brushes. Stella’s process was documented in Hollis Frampton’s photo essay “The Secret World of Frank Stella” which showed the artist’s approach to canvas as being the same as he would a house – filling a space with increasingly proximate concentric lines. In his striped works, Frank Stella never used masking tape. He would never even measure out the lines, rather the works are free-hand.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is the Benjamin Moore Series. This series is one of Stella’s most iconic. Andy Warhol recognized the genius of Stella and purchased the complete set of originals himself.
All the titles of Stella’s works are significant. The Benjamin Moore Series makes reference to the type and brand of paint that was used in the creation of the works. The use of store-bought house paints is significant in that it roots his art in the post-war commodity culture. In naming the series after a company, he also explored the rise of advertising and branding. The titles of each individual piece are also important to note – they are all named after historical battles fought during the Civil War.
The two works featured at Gregg Shienbaum Fine Art are Palmito Ranch and Hampton Roads. Both battles were of great significance. The Battle of Hampton Roads, often called either the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack or the Battle of Ironclads, fought on March 9, 1862, was the most important naval battle of the Civil War from the perspective of naval development. It was History’s first duel between ironclad warships. The Battle of Palmito Ranch is regarded as the final battle of the war, fought May 12 and 13, 1865, on the banks of the Rio Grande in Texas. Despite that Robert Lee had surrendered a month prior to Ulysses Grant, the attack was ordered on the Confederate Army for unknown reasons. Anecdotes suggest that Union Colonel Theodore Barrett wanted to see combat before the end of the war. The names of Stella’s works are significant, loading abstract images with meaning. The complete series is a historical narrative composed of abstract works.
The works in the series are among Stella’s most reductive compositions. It is the formal rather than the thematic matter that Stella engages in. The set plays with maze-like patterns, simple diagonals, and understated and stacked compositions, where the painted line creates an even, horizontal rhythm. Stella shows us the environment of the battles of the Civil War with paint straight from a can – intense and flat. The saturated palette, measured proportions, and glowing presence are at once immediately vibrant and classically timeless.
As Adam D. Weinberg, director of the Whitney has said “Frank is a radical innovator who has, from the beginning, absorbed the lessons of art history and then remade the world on his own artistic terms. He is a singular American master.”