Art that is innovative and consistent

“I did not give my life to art; art gave me my life”.
Frank StellaFrank Stella has been making groundbreaking art since the 1950s, from his striped, shaped paintings to his current work which breaks the boundaries between painting, sculpture and installation. Roberta Smith writes about this trajectory in the New York Times. The full scope of Stella’s work can be seen in his retrospective now at the Whitney.In a recent article in The Guardian Stella mentions that he doesn’t like the word “reinvent” and prefers to think that he is always inventing. He makes something new with each fresh series. However, as with many artists, there is a consistent thread that carries through his career. This thread might be as simple and clear as how a line can function in space. In some ways his work is about drawing as much as it is about painting. And from the very first time Stella cut the corners of his minimalist canvas and forced the viewers to see the painting as an “object,” his art has always created a relationship to sculpture. His current “sculptural paintings” as he likes to refer to them) address the relationship to historical three-dimensional space in painting. This is an idea the artist explored in Working Space, a series of lectures about pictorial space in Baroque painting, particularly Carravaggio’s, as a point of departure for thinking of space in 20th-century art. Artist and writer, Robert Linsley, in an article about Stella’s baroque work, says that Working Space is one of the best books written by an artist.

Stella is that he is extremely engaging to listen to –he is smart, funny and very direct while always remaining gracious. Often, when giving artist talks, he requests to have a blackboard nearby. In a conversation at Toledo Museum of Art Stella drew diagram of a dog in a rectangle to explain the relationship of representational and abstract forms. He said that the three enemies of paintings are: representation, reproduction and recreation. At the New Orleans Museum of Art, he used the black board to draw diagrams that explained how all of his ideas relate back to Kandinsky: New Orleans Museum of Art. On stage at the Anderson Ranch Centre, Stella’s talk with curator Jeffrey Grove offered a good overview of Stella’s career, with an emphasis on the importance that art history plays in his understanding of his own work. And one of my artist interviews is Frank Stella on  CBC’s Wachtel on the Arts.

It is such a pleasure to listen to an artist who is so completely engaged in his practice, and to observe in his work, how a consistent thread of ideas and continuous innovations can go hand in hand.


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