Shaped canvas 3

The relation between the interior and the edge of a shaped, meaning not rectangular, support, is the most interesting problem. Stella solved it in the classic modernist way by eliminating the interior, most importantly in his Polish Village series, one of his high points. There is still some residual figure/ground business within the piece, but that makes

Frank Stella, Pilica 2 1973

it more interesting. A work like this looks like nothing so much as a three-dimensional Malevich. The drive here is to fly, to lift off out of the boundaries of the picture and to become a new kind of picture/object in the process. But the flight stays pinned to the wall, which itself becomes a new kind of ground. Again, I see the value of staying close to the plane, not just because it keeps contact with the history of painting, and with illusion, but because it’s economical. The trick is to do the most with the least, and flat pictures are always the least with the most resources. Stella wouldn’t move further in this direction until the Moby Dick series. There was a recent show of the Irregular Polygons which I would love to learn more about, but the Polish Villages may deserve more attention. Apparently they suffer from some technical problems, which is too bad but doesn’t detract in any important way. The jagged edge, with its many changes of direction, is attractive, as is the interior,

Frank Stella, Chodorow 2 1971

deduced from the edge and free from it at the same time, but the question I always harp on still remains, which is the problematic fact that the shape is determined ahead of time, not derived as the work is made. This is what makes the productive distinction between interior and edge, partially overcome by Stella’s neo-suprematism. Other artists, such as Richard Tuttle, have tried to liberate the whole in an organic way, making the shape as they go. This is a different kind of painting/sculpture, which also stays close to the wall, only has more to do with Matisse’s cut-outs.

Richard Tuttle, Waferboard 3 1996

The solution is clear, obvious, necessary, but fussing about with the edge wouldn’t work for me. I’ve been mulling this over for a long time, and only now think I can see a way forward.

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