Bringing the outside in

Another aspect of the way that Stella organizes individual works into groups by association, also well explicated by Wallace, is that in some cases he will cut a piece out of a wave-whale shape and then put the removed “negative” in another work. This “cutting” can happen by overlapping of forms, especially painted forms, or might be by way of using the template as a stencil. These three prints can demonstrate—with thanks to Wallace, who has tracked many of these moves throughout the series.

Frank Stella, Hark! 1985-89



The pieces cut out to make the wave-whale at the top of “Hark”…

Frank Stella, Going Aboard 1985-89

Frank Stella, A Squeeze of the Hand 1985-89











…are placed into “Going Aboard,” acting like a stencil to turn a negative area into a whale-wave shape….













….and the orange piece at the bottom right in “A Squeeze of the Hand” appears to be cut out of the same whale in “Hark!,” at a place where it is overlapped by other shapes, though I find it hard to put it back there.

Frank Stella, Squid 1985-89





Meanwhile, the pieces cut out to make the large red wave-whale at the top and left of “A Squeeze of the Hand,” which can be found on the chart, appear in “Squid” as a negative of the same shape.




This is a technical device with an obvious mechanical usefulness. The cut out pieces are to hand, and don’t need to be wasted.



Every negative can be a positive, every inside can become a new context—so much modernism has always known—but Stella builds a new narrative, a new world on each side. In Moby Dick each correspondence across the positive/negative boundary takes modernist push-pull out of the schematic and into a rounded mental space through the other elements in each piece. Extrapolation, expansion and development produces a multi-dimensional whole. Everything left out of a positive form becomes another positive form—this can only happen in a space larger than a single painting, and in a time longer than a single instant. Drama happens in time, and pictorial drama is enhanced by the intensification of the temporal.

This entry was posted in Abstraction and Society, American Modernism, Principles of Abstraction and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *