Relational Composition

Following from earlier posts that talk about the crowdedness of Stella’s compositions, I’d like to focus and study a design. For a piece like this one, from the Kleist series, painted by assistants from a very large collage, a photograph doesn’t help much. The only advantage of the reproduction is that it can give a distance that allows us to see some of the larger movements. Note the black lines, which are obviously considered, and act as a kind of broken frame, tentatively holding the action. They are a good way to get us across such

Frank Stella, Die Marquise von O_  1998

a wide expanse. In a detail of the right hand side note the sleeve like shapes at the top that form a ‘V’ and how they connect with the broken open mesh sphere below. Next the curve

Frank Stella, Die Marquise von O_ 1998 (detail right side)

on the white area below and to the left invites linkage with the rounded white swirl on blue above it to the right of the ‘V,’ and to the white smoke rings further over, also cut into a rounded shape by a red line that seems to mark the edge of a yellow/blue mesh, and all of those whites join with the ‘V’ to make a complex organism which we can now see better on the full view, where it dominates the right half of the picture. So there are large designs and small ones, and many, many details. The parts work together, but to see that we have to see through their apparent conflict, which may easily be real conflict, conflict being essential for drama, pictorial and otherwise. The conflict is in our perception, meaning the difficulty the picture presents, but the kind of looking demanded is not so different from what the old masters ask, at least when we look at them abstractly.

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