BORN IN MALDEN, MASSACHUSETTS
CURRENTLY LIVES AND WORKS IN NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Frank Stella is one of the 20th century’s most innovative and prolific artists. Since 1960, when he completed his renowned series of Black paintings that shook the art world and heralded the advent of Minimalism, Stella has continually redefined the concerns of advanced painting and extended its boundaries.
As a young artist, Stella addressed the formal aspects of modernism, focusing on a picture’s surface and structure. “What you see is what you see,” is how he explained his literal approach to art and has become a widely quoted remark that set the tone for art-critical discourse in the sixties.
Stella made emphatically flat paintings, which sought to excise illusionist space from the picture. In the Black paintings (included in the 1959 Sixteen Americans exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York) and the subsequent Aluminum paintings (his earliest shaped canvases, exhibited in his first solo show in 1960 at Leo Castelli Gallery, New York) the picture’s surface echoed and reiterated its depicted shape, reinforcing modernism’s notion of painting’s flatness as it sought to establish the painting as an object.
The most extraordinary aspect of Stella’s enduring career has been his remarkable ability to reinvent himself and his art. Since the early 1960s, he has conceived his work in series. With the Irregular Polygons of 1966-67, Stella’s attention shifted as he began to explore the illusionistic potential of abstraction. By 1973, with the completion of his Polish Village pictures (taking titles and shapes from the wooden synagogues destroyed by the Nazis) Stella seemed to have abandoned the anti-illusionistic flat surfaces of his earlier paintings. For the artist, they represented an entirely new direction—a move toward a projective, enveloping three-dimensional pictorial space. Having found a fresh focus, Stella utilized materials and up-to-date technologies. For the 1974-75 Brazilian series, he painted on etched metallic sheets formed into fan-like shapes; with the 1977-78 Exotic Birds, he combined honeycomb aluminum with expressionistically worked ground glass surfaces; and with the 1980s series Circuits, Shards and Cones and Pillars, the paintings grew even denser with overlapping, cut-out patterns that twisted into sinuous curves as they moved forward into high relief. In his recent work, which has moved far beyond the confines of traditional painting, Stella works freely in three dimensions. As a sculptor, he has realized massive metal objects for Chicago, Luxembourg and Tokyo. As an architect, he has completed extensive scenographic decorations for the princess of Wales Theater in Toronto and designed buildings in Europe for the cities Groningen and Dresden.
Born 1936 in Malden, Massachusetts, Stella attended the Phillips Academy in Andover Mass from 1950-54 and graduated from Princeton University with A.B. degree in history in 1958. Stella lives and works in New York City.