Background Information on Frank Stella

American artist Frank Stella has remained a prominent and innovative practitioner of abstract painting since the late fifties. Born in 1936 in Malden, Massachusetts, Stella studied painting at the Phillips Academy in Andover and at Princeton University, where he graduated in 1958 with a degree in history. In 1959 he moved to New York and completed his first body of mature work, the Black paintings, establishing the basis for Minimalism. These paintings brought Stella immediate recognition; they were included in the ground-breaking exhibition Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1959 and later that year Alfred S. Barr, the Director, purchased one for the museum’s permanent collection.

In 1960 Stella’s Aluminum paintings, his earliest shaped canvases, were the subject of his first solo show at the Leo Castelli Gallery. He then took his first trip to Europe, making sketches in Spain for what would become the Concentric Squares and Mitered Mazes. He also had his first show at Galerie Lawrence, Paris of work from the Benjamin Moore series. During this time, Stella’s work was included in group exhibitions at both the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. In the later sixties, he was represented in the U.S. pavilion at the XXXII Venice Biennale, and he began exhibiting regularly abroad.

Stella has conceived his work in series since the early sixties, developing drawings and maquettes for a new project while completing the finished works of the previous one. In the 1970’s he began working in three-dimensional works with his Protractor and Saskatchewan series. The Polish Village series, named for 17th, 18th and 19th century synagogues destroyed in Poland by the Nazis were begun in 1976. In different versions of the works, he moved from low-relief collage to high relief works with surfaces of felt and painted cardboard. At the same time, he became increasingly involved in printmaking, creating series of prints at Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles, and Petersburg Press, New York which repeated images that first appeared in earlier painting series. In 1975, he began working with Kenneth Tyler of Tyler Graphics, with whom he has continued to collaborate since.

Stella was extremely productive during the seventies, developing several major bodies of work, including the Diderot series, the largest of the Concentric Square pictures; and, the Brazilian series, etched and painted metal reliefs named for areas in and around Rio de Janeiro. These were followed by the Exotic Bird and the Indian Bird works, freely painted metal reliefs whose titles were inspired by the artist’s travels and new interest in bird-watching. During this time, Stella’s work was featured in many individual and group exhibitions shown internationally. He also began to travel extensively though out Europe, as well as to Brazil and India.

A devotee of car racing, Stella painted a BMW for the Le Mans race in 1976. This interest led to one of his major series of the early eighties, the Circuits. The titles of these works were taken from the names of international auto race tracks. Next he completed the Shards series, large painted metal reliefs based directly on compositions of prints. In 1984, he began another series of metal reliefs, the Cones and Pillars, whose titles were taken from Italio Calvino’s Italian Folktales, and in 1986 work began on the extensive Moby Dick series, with its wave-like forms and names taken from the chapter titles of Melville’s Moby Dick. A group of prints, The Waves, based on this series was published by Waddington Graphics.

In 1987 the Museum of Modern Art, New York presented Frank Stella: 1970-1987, a major retrospective exhibition which began where the 1970 MOMA retrospective left off. The show contained approximately thirty-five large paintings which Stella had produced during the seventies and eighties. The Kawamura Museum of Art, in Japan, organized another full retrospective exhibition which opened in 1991 and traveled in Japan through 1992.

In 1990, Stella began a new group of poured metal constructions which include some of the first fully three-dimensional works he has done. In 1992, he developed a new sculpture series using cast stainless steel. This group includes work ranging dramatically in size from small, table-top works to monumental commissioned installations. Most recently, he has begun working on full-scale architectural projects, including work on a museum in The Netherlands, and botanical, commercial and museum buildings for a public park in Dresden, Germany.

Stella has received many honors and awards, among them the Skowhegan Medal for Painting (1981), The Mayor of the City of New York’s Award of Honor for Arts and Culture (1982), an Honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Princeton University (1984), an honorary degree from Dartmouth College (1985), and an Award of American Art from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia (1985). In 1983, Stella was named to the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship of Poetry at Harvard, the first abstract painter so honored. He delivered a six-lecture series entitled Working Space, which was published in 1986 by Harvard University Press.

Stella lives and works in New York City.