Stella and the Past

Stella reveals a lot about his ambitions in the following comments on ceiling painting:

“Pietro da Cortona, Fra Pozzi and even Tiepolo met the challenges of architectural decoration in a more measured, distanced manner than their predecessors. They worked the available surfaces with a coherent program of color and design, while early artists like Michelangelo, Raphael and Correggio ran amok, covering vaults and ceilings with animated drawing and florid painting. Even leaving out the issue of quality, it is always possible to see the differences between the great machines of the sixteenth century and those of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The former are always a bit awkward and unresolved, almost always spilling out of their framing devices; the latter seem to bring decoration and architecture into a more convincing unity and present in turn a much better balanced brand of illusionism. All the later seventeenth—and eighteenth—century work fits into its architectural setting better than its predecessors.”

This is challenging to me, but I’m not sure I agree that Michelangelo and Raphael are less contained than Tiepolo, though I’ve never had a chance to see Carracci’s great ceiling, or the cathedral in Parma. Clearly Stella prefers “animated drawing and florid painting,” “a bit awkward and unresolved,” and this is what he feels is necessary today—in order to be seen above the noise and confusion, and to save painting from its self imposed minority status; these are also good descriptors of his work. He makes extensive use of frames within frames, so that his collaged forms can “spill…out of their framing devices.” A good example was included in an earlier post, but this one also works. The frame within the frame allows forms to pile forward in a kind of trompe-l’oeil.

Frank Stella, Fanattia 199

Frank Stella, Fanattia 1995

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