Illustrated companion

There is no doubt that in his early work, from 1958-60, Frank Stella created a kind of painting that was effectively more abstract than any before. He did this by using a format which eliminated to an extent greater than ever before both the illusion of space and the element of composition. At the same time he also eliminated colour, confining himself to non-colours, at first black, and then the silver-coloured aluminium paint used here. The surface pattern of this painting was arrived at basically by making a narrow stripe following the edge of the canvas, and repeating it until the whole surface is covered. The width of the stripe was determined by the width of the house-painter's brushes used. In his first works of this type, the 'black paintings', Stella used a traditional rectangular canvas, but for the aluminium series began to shape the canvas in various ways, which introduced variation and also drew attention to the nature of his procedure. This system of composition, in Stella's own words, '... forces illusionistic space out of the painting at a constant rate by using a regulated pattern.' The spectator's eye always moves smoothly across the surface, either to and off the edge, or, in this case, to and into the real space in the centre. The artist has also said that the aluminium paint was chosen partly for the role it could play in reducing illusion: 'The aluminium surface had a quality of repelling the eye in the sense that you could not penetrate it very well. It was a kind of surface that wouldn't give in and would have less soft, landscape-like or naturalistic space in it. I felt that it had the character of being slightly more abstract.' Not the least striking aspect of these works is that because their structures directly echo the shape of the canvas they are in fact pictures of themselves - a near perfect expression of Ad Reinhardt's idea of 'art-as-art'.

The title refers to Six Mile Bottom, a village in England near Newmarket, where the poet Byron's half-sister Augusta Leigh lived.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.258