Home Magazine Goodbye Frank Stella, the most influential American abstract artist of this century

Frank Stella, son of an Italian family immigrated to the USA, has always reinvented his art, pushing boundaries and experimenting with different materials.

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Frank Stella has been one of the most influential American abstract artists known for his exploration and constant reinvention of colors and forms. The artist was born on 12th May 1936 and died in New York this past 4th May 2024. His grandparents immigrated to the US from Sicily at the beginning of the 20th century. His mother was an artist turned housewife, the family was talking in Italian at home, and his surname, Stella, is the Italian for Star.

Stella started to deal with the star shape from an early age. In 1963, he participated in a residency at Dartmouth College, where he started to paint on star shaped canvases. However, he stated that the shape of the star was not meant to be the reason for his name. He was born in Malden, a Boston suburb. His parents sent him to Phillips Academy, where the art lessons he received there were the only one he would ever receive. After his Bachelor in History at Princeton he moved to New York in 1958. There, he started to work as a house painter to gain some money to live with. When he was a child, his father trained him, wanting him to always paint around the house. This helped Stella with finding a profession once arrived in New York.

Frank Stella, Hyena Stomp,1962. Courtesy of TATE Gallery.

The year after his arrival in the big apple, his paintings were included in the Three Young Americans exhibition at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, as well as in the Sixteen Americans exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. During the 50’s and 60’s Stella started to paint on unusual shaped canvases, different from the traditional rectangular ones. In 1961, the artist was working on Copper Paintings, he used the barnacle-repellent gunk with which he had caulked his father’s sloop the summer before. During the same year he was working at the series called Benjamin Moore inspired by the name of house paint he used to paint with. Warhol bought an entire set of the works from new and he started his Campbell series shortly after. He was not a pop artist, and he did not want to satire popular culture, he used these materials because he was familiar with them. 


Shoubeegi by Frank Stella, 1978. Courtesy of Flickr.


Over time, Stella has experimented with geometric shapes and colors, starting to include three dimensional works into his practices. After 1960, he started to use print making as well, always being ready to reinvent his artistic practices. In 1970, when he was just 33 years old, the Museum of Modern Art presented a retrospective of Stella’s works and he became the youngest artist to have had a retrospective at the MOMA. During the same time he started to work with relief, adding a new perspective into his works. These works were called “maximalist” paintings, as he added a third dimension to them. The integration of painting and sculpture is what made him so famous.

During the mid 80s he created a large body of works inspired by the novel “Moby Dick”, which gave way to full three dimensionality. His new works were different from the flat surfaces he used to work on, breaking free from all the walls and experimenting with curls, aluminum and sculptures. However, even though the focus was three-dimensional, according to Stella these were surfaces to paint on as well, so everything was still about painting. In 1990, he started to make sculptures for public places and work at architectural projects. 


Frank Stella, Inflated Star and Wooden Star, 2015. Courtesy of RA.

In 2015, he installed two big star-sculptures in the Royal Academy of London. The stars were both 7 metres tall, but both very different from each other. The name of the work was “Inflated Star and Wooden Star”. One was made in aluminum and the other of unvarnished teak. He became one of the most famous abstract expressionists, being known for his saying: “what you see, is what you see”. There is nothing to hide.

Cover Image: Frank Stella. Courtesy of Il Quotidiano Nazionale.

Written by Kooness

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