Abstract Order

Following on from the previous post, Stella’s manner in the late prints especially, but also in many of his reliefs, is to be vivid, crazy, overloaded and loud. That’s what puts a lot of viewers off. It’s a style and a feel hard for many to take. I think it’s an attempt to outshout the clamor we have to put up with all the time anyway, certainly in the art world. Can’t blame him for that, since so many other artists do the same. He just found a way to do it with painting, and so embarrasses more timid competitors. But the more I look at the works and the more I’m forced to justify my choices on this blog, the clearer and more straightforward they seem. The first impression is something to see through, but we have to face the truth that in abstraction today there are no standard patterns, or there shouldn’t be, and so the number of possible configurations is very great.

Frank stella, The Pacific 1985-88

All the Wave series of prints have a consistent pattern, which works as a consciously chosen limitation and a support for the viewer. There is the base layer of a Chinese lattice, either rectangular or circular, and that’s placed on a ground more or less worked up. In this case the ground is attractively scuffed and stained off-white paper. Then the other shapes do a dance behind, through and in front of open and broken frames. All the prints have marbling, but here it’s confined to the lattice and the foreground wave/whale shape. There, not so complex is it? In fact it’s quite beautiful. The devices I mentioned are interesting, and appeal to our need for formal matter to get some clarity on what we are looking at. A direct appeal to feeling never works, there has to be something objective and describable to work with. As I mentioned before, the same devices appear in the Moby-Dick Engravings and Domes, though there the lattices are all circular.

Frank Stella, Giufa e la Beretta Rosa 1989

This piece is a little more difficult. It is associated with the Cones and Pillars, some of Stella’s most challenging and in-your-face works. The straight line or stick that runs up at bottom right, and joins with the oval blue-grey shape below to make something that looks like a musical note, is parallel to the edge of a grey shape to its left, and also dances with a similar thin straight section in the top half of the print. The blue-grey oval at bottom brackets the whole composition with a white arc decorated with ovals at the top, and a striped disc sits in between. The blue area on the right joins visually with the blue grey “note” to make a bent shape that fits in very nicely with the arcs and ovals. There are a lot of symmetries and repetitions, but they don’t jump at us right away because the overall busyness distracts. The piece is not as arbitrary or chaotic as it looks at first glance. Or let’s say that it’s not just the color that’s unified and logical, the whole thing is, but it’s not pre-planned. Good arrangements arrived at through improvisation.

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