In 1958, just a few years after graduating from Princeton, Frank Stella began his groundbreaking “black paintings.” These austere works were composed of parallel stripes determined by the proportions of the canvas and the width of the paintbrush. They had no meaning beyond their physical form; as Stella famously put it, “What you see is what you see.”
The Frank Stella Exhibit at the De Young, with colorful geometric shapes half a block long and twisted sculptures that jump off the wall, will close in a few days. It is well worth seeing even if his art doesn’t float your boat! One of the most highly regarded post-war American painters still working today, Stella employs a style that is constantly evolving. I just had to see and experience it since he is consider a grand rule-breaker.
Stella’s works are often called “pinstripe paintings,” but the implied regularity is inaccurate. When working, the artist doesn’t measure out lines, as many critics have presumed, but works freehand — faintly deviating from perfect straight lines. His use of materials is just as revolutionary; in his work, he uses house and car paint, cast aluminum, fiberglass, and the latest 3D-printing techniques.
Stella focuses on the basic elements of an artwork – color, shape, and composition. I like to think that some of my own “abstract” images employ similar creative patterns that begin with modest materials such as rusting hinges, peeling paint and ripples distorting reflected lines. I hope that these kind of photographic images cause a person to wonder if “what you see is NOT what you see.”
Sometimes we really do need to frolic among the lines and curves around us and explore and manipulate their unfolding possibilities. In doing so we might be able to revision that which is before us into creative imagery with explosive new shapes and possibilities.