Among other things, the Moby Dick series marks a real advance in color. Stella’s color always had a dash of the arbitrary, which was one of its most interesting features. Personally I give the Protractors, along with Richter’s Color Charts, great importance as places where modernist working through of color relationships hit an intrinsic limit of arbitrariness. You can’t tell which color choices have been made on the basis of sensibility and which haven’t. But now Stella has gone beyond that, without forgetting it, and he really makes the color sing. In this piece, the purple disk with a brightly colored lattice is very strong and attractive, but as it happens probably better partly covered up.
The rainbow patchwork on the fringe left over from casting is like a doodle, pulling back from sensibility, but the best part is that patch of blue in the center, maybe the last element added, which is as expressive as anyone could want, talking to the red, gray and green piece on the left, and to the white, brown and metallic gray on its own shape. If one is a painter, why not just paint? The complexity here is that of different orders of color, different ways of feeling color and differently worked out groupings, all in the same piece. In the end they all have to work together, and to selectively let them cover each other is a good way to do that. But the relief construction is a slightly different thing than a painting—though I think there’s enough purple showing, I tend to mentally brush away the pieces that cover the red-gray-green shape, to let that harmony move free of the construction. Planes suspended in relief allow for simultaneous cover up and transparency.