Slightly Overwhelming

I’m pretty familiar with the illustrations in Robert Wallace’s book on the Moby Dick series, but when I see the actual pieces don’t usually recognize them. There’s something about the size and detail and rawness of the works that stuns a little at first. It’s hard to get oriented. A photograph provides a ready-made orientation, which then proves to be false.

Frank Stella, Cetology 1990

Frank Stella, Cetology 1990

Here is one piece from the front, and again from the right hand side.

Frank Stella, Cetology (detail side view) 1990

Frank Stella, Cetology (detail side view) 1990

The photograph doesn’t really catch how the shapes curve outward, leaving a capacious and beautiful volume behind. The fishy looking green tail at the bottom left is the back of the wave-whale shape covered with black and white stripes plunging down the right hand side of the front view, also found in the bottom right corner of the chart. So what looks to be a fish or whale tail is actually an upside down cross or open-armed shape. Different angles provide different images. This side view also shows how ragged are the edges of the cast aluminum shapes. They haven’t been cleaned up after coming out of the mold, and the irregular fringes of metal provide another painting surface, another opportunity. And here is a closer image of something visible in the lower right corner of the side view—a curved

Frank Stella, Cetology (detail back) 1990

Frank Stella, Cetology (detail back) 1990

opening with paint smears round the edge, and evident heavy use of solvent. So much variety of painterly invention hidden on the backs, rarely to be seen.

Some responses to the previous post suggest that misunderstandings might arise. I advocate a non-conceptual art, but that doesn’t mean that I’m in principle opposed to conceptualism. Far from it—most painting is too conceptual. The comparison that is affecting me is between the supreme accomplishment of a painter with great experience, and the cleverness of relatively young university educated artists. I suspect the university is half the problem, but originality is equally hard to achieve for artists of any age and any period. I wish our younger artists would pose less and try harder.

This entry was posted in American Modernism, Conceptualism and Painting, Current Affairs, Ethics of Abstraction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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