Frank Stella is an American painter and printmaker, living and working in New York and associated with minimalism and post-painterly abstraction. I am particually interested by his early series of painting including the Black Paintings (1958–60), Aluminum Paintings (1960), and Copper Paintings (1960–61). These geometric works are constructed by the painting of bold uniform lines across the canvas surface using a decorators’ brush. The thick lines are separated by slithers of raw canvas, peeking through from underneath. Originally produced on large rectangular canvases, but were later substituted for angular shapes corresponding to the pattern of the lines.
“Stella Stressed: ‘My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there. It really is an object.’ […] When the surface of the painting is looked at. It is just that: a surface. Not a metaphor of a body or a space within the picture, but an object within a world of other objects. ‘What you see is what you see.’ said Stella.” (p.16)
“…the conventional idea of the painting as a transparent screen opening onto an imaginary space gives way to the idea of painting as an opaque surface occupying actual space.” (p.17)
“The picture has now become an entity belonging to the same order of space as our bodies; it is no longer the vehicle of an imagined equivalent of that order. Pictorial space has lost its “inside” and become all “outside”. The spectator can no longer escape into it from the space in which he himself stands.” – Clement Greenberg, 1954 (p.20)
Batchelor, D. (1997) Minimalism (movements in modern art). Millbank, London: Tate Gallery Pub.
In order for his works to be objects in their own right, rather than an image, Stella stressed the importance of symmetry. This was a way for him to separate himself from implicit anthropomorphism evident in even the most abstract European Art. Symmetrical compositions avoid ‘balance’ and help stress the singularity of ‘the whole thing’. To reiterate Stella’s well known words ‘What you see is what you see.’, he’s saying that his works do not reference/represent anything, there is nothing to these works beyond what is observable.
‘Die Fahne Hoch!’ 1959 – Black Enamal on canvas 308.6×185.4This German title ‘Die Fahne hoc!’, is translated “hoist the flag,” it is taken from the “Horst Wessel Song,” the Nazi Party’s marching anthem. Not only the title of this work but the flaplike proportions bring to mind not only Nazi banners but the darkness and annihilation of the Holocaust. The phrase may also refer to raising the banner of a new aesthetic, one that marked a shift away from Abstract Expressionism and anticipated the geometry and rigor of Minimalism.
‘Six Mile Bottom’ 1960 – Metallic paint on canvas 300×182.2The title ‘Six Mile Bottom’ refers to a village in England, where the poet Byron’s half-sister Augusta Leigh lived.