Recently my attention has moved from Moby-Dick to a later series, based on the writing of Heinrich von Kleist. It’s hard to find imagery in Stella’s work that comes out of the stories, and I don’t think he aims for that anyway. It might happen, but I think he finds an affinity with the writer on some other level. According to Thomas Mann, Kleist was after “a confusion of affects,” and that sounds like a good description of what Stella’s later paintings and prints appear to be going for. Mann goes on to describe Kleist’s style: “…hard as steel yet impetuous, totally matter-of-fact yet contorted, twisted, surcharged with matter; a style full of involutions, periodic and complex…at once closely reasoned and breathless in its intensity.” Add a dash of sensationalism and we’re getting pretty close to the effect of Stella’s later works. I don’t know if he can read German, and the translation I have seems to flatten out some of this difficult richness into the straightforwardness of a fable, but if Stella’s work has parallels with that of Kleist, they will be on this level, a more interesting level than illustration anyway, and more productive for abstraction.

Frank Stella, The Earthquake in Chile 1999 (detail right side)

Frank Stella, The Earthquake in Chile 1999 (detail right side)

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