Stella’s constructions are to give him surfaces to paint on, so ultimately the work depends on the expressiveness of image, gesture and color, like any painting. A construction of curved, tilted and shaped flat surfaces or a single flat surface—is that an important difference? Stella evidently doesn’t entirely think so because he keeps returning to prints, and the Moby Dick prints, in several series, do everything that the reliefs do.
That the separate parts would be overpainted to the point of illegibility was probably inevitable. Stella clearly felt that he needed room to move, meaning to include anything he has seen and loved in past painting. Complexity, possibilities, energy—all aspects of an art with space enough for the artist to inhabit and move freely. When he paints his own wave-whale shapes over cast wave-whale shapes, it gets really interesting because now we have conscious illusionism played against literal shape. I’d like to think he did them freehand. In this piece a large wave-whale, partly outlined in red, and visible on the chart in the upper right corner, is painted over with three others, one a reversal of its own shape.
The cut out shapes have to be specified ahead of time, so they are “ready-made,” as far as the artist is concerned when he steps up to his picture. That’s why Stella’s overpainting has the character of a release, a break through. He has made the best possible use of the ready-made, and made the limitations of his work productive. But at the same time, those shapes are bent, cut into, truncated, folded—sometimes it looks like they exist in slightly different versions, or else there has been considerable trimming and alterations.