Style of Work

What makes Stella so productive (and you have to investigate to find out how much, because most of the work is not widely known) is a two part process. First lots of planning and preparation, then head long improvisation and intense work. He is very impatient and has said many times that his main concern is to get the work finished and done with. Like most artists I’m willing to take whatever time is necessary to get it right; with Stella you can see that sometimes he says to himself “good enough.” But with so much energy to carry him there are no failures, only alternative solutions. The series as a form allows that. It might sound like a rationalization, but it’s really the condition of abstraction itself, for there are no absolute or overriding criteria, and so every new solution accepted is a new possibility opened up. I don’t mean to suggest a lack of rigor—in Stella’s case forward driving energy ensures that rigorous self critique and second guessing doesn’t result in work with a familiar feel. And what sends Stella beyond the chance of failure is the preparation. All those smoke rings are printed out ahead of time and then cut up to be collaged into compositions. Parts are cut out of printer’s proofs, aluminum castings are made in multiple copies, and then over again at different scales. For the reliefs there are cardboard maquettes to guide the casting work but still, left overs, failures and changes of mind must produce a pile of parts in the corner of the studio—later to make other works, even other works in other media, as cast pieces can be inked and printed. Templates and stencils can switch places. The artist at play in a universe of forms.

Frank Stella, Die Marquise von O_ 1998 (detail left side)

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