Modern Masters Artist Profile: Frank Stella

“I tried to keep the paint as good as it was in the can.” American artist Frank Stella first gained the attention of the art world with his “Black Paintings,” which he created between 1958 and 1960. The compositions of these paintings fall into one of two groups: the earlier paintings are rectilinear and the later ones are based on a diamond pattern. Stella began these “Black Paintings” by drawing lines with pencil and ruler, the black stripes were then painted by hand without the use of any tape or other straight-line assistance. The light strips between the black are simply the blank canvas showing through.

Stella rejected established ideas of the art world by disapproving of an emotional and subjective approach to the creation of artwork. However, the individual titles Stella gave to each of his pieces seem to negate this aloofness to his work. All his titles refer to some aspect of Stella’s life. Some were specific places in New York. Some refer to music, literature, politics, or various nightclubs. That being said, Stella never wanted his audience to get more out of a painting than the paint itself; in his own words, “All I want anyone to get out of my paintings, and all I ever get out of them, is the fact that you can see the whole idea without any confusion…What you see is what you see.”

Update: Some of the images referred to in this blog post have been removed following the close of Modern Masters at the Denver Art Museum. Please visit the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Collection search page to find the related artworks. This appeared on this post while the exhibition was open:

Frank Stella (American, born 1936), Jill, 1959. Enamel on canvas; 90-3/8 x 78-3/4 in. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1962. © 2014 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Holly Westwood was an intern in the education department at the Denver Art Museum in 2013.