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Artist Frank Stella, precursor of minimalism, dies at 87 | Culture

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The painter Frank Stella, a prominent figure in American post-war art, especially with his early minimalist works, died this Saturday at his home in New York, at the age of 87, due to lymphoma, according to reports. The New York Times. Despite the insistence of critics, Stella refused to interpret her work with a famous phrase: “What you see is what you see.”

Born in 1936, in Malden, Massachusetts, son of Frank and Constance Stella, he a gynecologist and she a landscape painter, he began his career with sober paintings, some with little color and no pretensions to providing visual stimulation, which contrasted with abstract expressionism. of the time. His early works included a series of paintings using the technique pinstriping (large format works with fine black lines on white canvas) that caused a sensation in the American art world.

“He was one of the first American artists to be educated in abstraction and, therefore, develop and progress in it in a natural way, without any traumatic conversion,” wrote the critic Francisco Calvo Serraller in this newspaper in 2012.

Before he was 25, Stella was already recognized as one of the great American artists, and his career spanned six decades. After finishing his History degree at Princeton University, the young artist opened his studio in Manhattan, where he began working on his dark-toned paintings. “Everything seems alive and fabulous to you when you are young,” he said in an interview with this newspaper on the occasion of a retrospective at the IVAM in Valencia in 2012. “One good thing about that time is that there were actually few of us. You could meet everyone, people with common interests got together. The art world was not very big. Today it is totally different, there are countless artists, galleries, museums, exhibitions.”

From black paints to color

Thanks to your series Black Paintingslarge-scale paintings consisting of dark stripes barely separated by lines of unpainted canvas, achieved celebrity by opposing the current of abstract expressionism dominant in the 1950s. They were received as a challenge to the dominant trend, represented with great weight by Pollock or De Koonig, and were decisive for the birth of minimalism.

“Although Stella was very aware of the magnitude of the contribution of abstract expressionism in general, she felt the need to do something else, something like what Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg had already undertaken—the conversion of painting into an object—but in a different way. an even more radical way,” writes Calvo Serraller. Four of these works were included in the now legendary exhibition of 1959 Sixteen Americans at the MoMA in New York, a group show in which Stella was the youngest participant, while also holding her first solo show at Leo Castelli’s gallery.

Stella himself was not clear about his reaction to abstract expressionism, as he admitted to this newspaper: “I don’t think mine was a reaction against abstract expressionism,” he explained. “I was just trying to be as direct as possible. I was trying to find something closer to my sense of consciousness. Without filters. No drama or anxiety. Something immediate and that would cause an impact. And at the same time it was understood first. “Instant visual understanding.”

‘Hatra II’, a work by Frank Stella, one of those exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, photographed on June 19, 2006.Luis Alberto García Pérez

Subsequently, the painter experienced a change of register and during the following years he turned towards the colorful works, so characteristic of his work, some of them still with stripes, others with geometric figures. In those years the hard edge (hard-edged paints) prevails and the artist surprises the world with his shaped canvases, with which he displays his designs in whimsical, impressive and increasingly larger formats. Towards the end of the 1960s she embarked on the ambitious project Protractor, a series of large paintings composed of overlapping semicircles of bright colors. This change of register marked the beginning of an almost frenetic activity (more than 10,000 works are attributed to him, and he could work on up to ten pieces at a time). Later, from the late 70s, the artist embarked on the production of three-dimensional pieces: known as baroque constructions, each work is more complex, richer and brilliant than the previous one.

The American artist Frank Stella with one of his works exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibition, in London, in 2000.
The American artist Frank Stella with one of his works exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibition, in London, in 2000.Ian Nicholson – PA Images (Getty Images)

“Always working in a systematic, serial and conscientious manner, it is surprising how Stella, without giving up her puritan principles, which remind us of that sanitized aesthetic of Dutch painting, from Vermeer to Mondrian, could lead to the fantastic ultra-baroque festival of pictorial works, if They can be called this way, frozen pyrotechnics,” wrote Calvo Serraller.

In 1961 he married Barbara Rose, who would become a renowned art critic. The marriage lasted until 1969, when they divorced. In the 1970s and 1980s, he increasingly turned to three-dimensional works in which he incorporated aluminum and fiberglass, before making monumental sculptures for public spaces. The MoMA in New York offered retrospectives of her work in 1970 and again in 1987. During the 1980s, Stella was guided by music and literature, for example, in a sculptural series inspired by Moby Dickwith such complex shapes that it had more in common with architectural models than with traditional sculptures.

Frank Stella exhibition at the IVAM in 2012.
Frank Stella exhibition at the IVAM in 2012.Joseph Jordan

A large sample of this great production could be seen in the 2016 anthological exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York. With a hundred works chosen by the artist himself and distributed according to his wishes, the exhibition occupied 560 square meters of the splendid building built by Renzo Piano next to the Hudson River. There he remembered his best-known thought: “Painting is just a flat surface with paint on top. And nothing more”.

He reflected on this, with some humor, in that conversation with EL PAÍS: “Most of the painting that is seen today is the result of Photoshop. It’s like photography, manipulated photography. And that medium is where many of the ideas for current painting come from. As for other forms such as installations or performances, they are also greatly influenced by the digital world. It is what it is. “Painting with paint on a canvas only occurs to people like me, to dinosaurs.”

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