In the catalog of the Stella retrospective in Wolfsburg I find a surprising member of the Exotic Birds series. At eight feet wide it is hardly a sketch, but it looks exactly like the preliminary drawings for that series. Most interesting is that it is a pretty traditional painting, and a good one. At first encounter I considered it the best in the series, which means that I found it more compelling than the painted reliefs. Granted, the Exotic Birds are not Stella’s career high light, but that’s probably too extreme a judgment.
What is most interesting is his need to move back to the picture plane even as he is building off it. We have to accept his claim that the reliefs are really paintings, a claim that his work has proven many times and in many different ways. But the question remains—is an illusion that one plane sits behind another simply more interesting and more satisfying than the overlapping of real planes? Stella may feel so, or at least wonders about it, and this is why he keeps stressing the pictorial in his painterly constructions.