Stella’s Prints

I just got hold of a very interesting Stella catalog, called Fourteen Prints with Drawings, Collages and Working Proofs. The interview is hilarious and brilliant. Here’s a few choice remarks:

When the Black prints came out, many people dismissed them: they said they were just reproductions. How did you feel about that?

“They were right. They were reproductions. That they were just reproductions – that I don’t know…in those days, any kind of criticism was welcome. It was a badge of quality. If a lot of people out there didn’t like what I did, it gave me immense pleasure.”

Did you ever study printmaking?

“No. Talk about ignorance. I knew absolutely nothing about printmaking when I started out, and I don’t know anything about it now…one time out at Gemini, they tried to teach me how to roll up a plate. Even that was too hard. You really had to pay attention. I just wanted to do it and forget it….In all the years I’ve been making art, I’ve never been tempted to learn anything about technique. The only technique I know is a house painter’s technique, which I subvert in any way I can. I’d love to be a messy house painter as well as a messy art painter, but I don’t know if I could really stand it. That is, I’m not sure I could live in a room painted the way my instincts would tell me to paint it.”

“I don’t pay too much attention to what I’m doing…I don’t know that much about it. I guess I want to know. But I can’t focus. Every time I try to think about it I forget…I don’t know what a good print should be and the main advantage I have is that I don’t care.”

I love the attitude, but of course he does have a grip on what he’s doing. The main thing seems to be the actual surface of the print, the way the ink builds up and gets into the paper. The form, which is what interests me, is for him secondary to the immediacy of ink-paper-color. That explains the fancy surfaces, and gives a perspective on the wildly painted reliefs. The advantage of a book like this is to compare the different states, but it’s not necessarily easy to see the rationale for all the stages. At first glance, it’s hard to appreciate that the final state of Pergusa 3 is better or more necessary than the early ones. It takes a fair amount of close investigation, and even then it’s not clear. Maybe it’s just as good, but in a different way, if that means anything. A lot of people find Stella easy to dismiss, but I find him hard to figure out.

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Frank Stella, an early version of Pergusa 3

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Frank Stella, a color proof of Pergusa 3

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Frank Stella, Pergusa 3

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