Frank Stella

Hyena Stomp


Alkyd paint on canvas
Support: 1956 x 1956 mm
frame: 1982 x 1981 x 91 mm
Purchased 1965

Display caption

The title Hyena Stomp comes from a track by the American jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton. Stella was thinking about syncopation while working on the painting.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

Frank Stella born 1936

T00730 Hyena Stomp 1962

Not inscribed
Benjamin Moore colours on canvas, 77 x 77 (195.5 x 195.5)
Purchased from Kasmin Ltd. (Grant-in-Aid) 1965
Prov: With Kasmin Ltd., London (purchased from the artist through Leo Castelli, New York, 1964)
Exh: New Directions in American Painting, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, December 1963-January 1964 (52, repr.); Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans, February-March 1964 (52, repr.); Atlanta Art Association, March-April 1964 (52, repr.); J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville, May-June 1964 (52, repr.); Art Museum, Indiana University, Bloomington, June-September 1964 (52, repr.); Washington University, St Louis, October 1964 (52, repr.); Detroit Institute of Arts, November-December 1964 (52, repr.)
Lit: Michael Fried, 'New York Letter' in Art International, VI, 25 November 1962, p.54; William S. Rubin, Frank Stella (New York 1970), pp.75-82; Robert Rosenblum, Frank Stella (Harmondsworth 1971), pp.29-33; Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, '57 Steps to Hyena Stomp' in Art News, LXXI, September 1972, pp.60-75, repr. p.60 in colour (colours very inaccurate)
Repr: The Tate Gallery (London 1969), p.187 in colour; Art News, LXXI, October 1972, p.92 in colour

This work was the subject of a very detailed analysis and discussion by Jean-Claude Lebensztejn in the September 1972 issue of Art News. Briefly one can say that it is one of a number of square pictures with bands of uniform width made in 1962-3 which were based either on concentric squares or, as in this case, on a mitred maze. Thus in 'Hyena Stomp' the composition is divided by diagonal lines, but the semi-diagonal at the upper right has been displaced upwards by the width of one stripe and does not quite meet at the centre. This slight displacement, together with the sequence of colours, generates the effect of a clockwise spiral leading in towards the centre, or alternatively of a counterclockwise spiral leading outwards from it. The composition can also be read, among other ways, as four isosceles triangles not quite meeting at the centre of the canvas, except that one of these triangles has a bottom corner cut off by the edge of the picture. The stripes are painted in a progressive and cyclical sequence of eleven colours in the order of the spectrum, orange-red, vermilion, red, violet-blue, blue-violet, blue, blue-green, green, yellow-green, yellow and orange-yellow. Each colour is applied uniformly and at its maximum intensity.

Stella had painted a little earlier in 1962 another picture the same size called 'Line Up' (now in the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC), which can be regarded as the tonal counterpart of 'Hyena Stomp' in black, white and greys instead of in colour. It is based on the same compositional schema but the bands are occupied by nine degrees of luminosity (that is to say, nine variables as against eleven in 'Hyena Stomp'), black to white passing through grey. In 1962-3 these were followed by a further painting 'Jasper's Dilemma' which is double the size and which pairs coloured and grisaille versions, with a coloured maze similar to 'Hyena Stomp' on the left and a black, white and grey one similar to 'Line Up' on the right. There are however certain differences, such as that the sequence of colours starts from the outside with blue instead of with red.

Barbara Rose said that this series was planned in advance. Stella started by making a series of drawings which still exists, then ordered all the stretchers at once. Each colour painting had its equivalent in black and white. 'Jasper's Dilemma' was the last and sums up the series, and so far as she could remember, was done as an afterthought. (The title refers not only to Jasper Johns' alternation between grisaille and colour in different versions of the same composition, but also to his characteristic reluctance ever to make a choice and his liking to have things both ways. Stella planned to make several further pictures inspired by friends, including one dedicated to Clement Greenberg, and drawings for these exist). By the time he started painting these rectangular maze pictures he had already made in Spain in 1961 the initial drawings for the shaped paintings known as 'Irregular Polygons', which were painted only in 1966. Thus although he liked the maze series, he felt that it was rather retrogressive, representing for one thing a return to the rectangle. He had a book on labyrinths. The title 'Hyena Stomp' was that of a composition by Jelly Roll Morton. Stella was reading a biography of him at the time and liked to play his records. His interest in jazz went back to the days when he and Darby Bannard were in college together and collected early American jazz records. In painting this series he was thinking about syncopation; one of the other similar pictures, 'Les Indes Galantes' (after Rameau), also had a musical title. He even had the idea of extending the series leaving one colour out each time, though in the end he never got round to this. 'Hyena Stomp' was entirely painted by hand, before he started to use tapes, and was executed with Benjamin Moore colours, a commercial pigment (house paint) which came in cans. The colours were applied in a single coat.

Years later, in 1973, he made two colour lithographs of 'Hyena Stomp' and 'Line Up', each 41 x 51cm, and also one of 'Jasper's Dilemma'. They were printed in twelve colours and published by the Petersburg Press.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.706-8, reproduced p.706