Who Are They?

Who is Frank Stella?

Enjoy the stripes, crazy colours and jazzy beats of Frank Stella

What inspired him?

Frank Stella, ‘Hyena Stomp’ 1962
Frank Stella
Hyena Stomp 1962
Tate
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2017

This crazy coloured painting is by Frank Stella and it is called Hyena Stomp. It was painted in 1962 and the title comes from a melody written by the jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton. Yes that is his real name! Stella loved jazz, when he was at college he used to collect early American jazz records. What he liked most about jazz was syncopation, which is when the melodies sound offbeat and a bit unexpected. In Hyena Stomp Stella is trying to do the same kind of thing with painting. The colours of the stripes keep changing.

Try following a stripe with your eyes; can you see how the colour just stops and another one takes over? Also the diagonal white lines cutting through the square don’t meet in the middle. A bit like the music, they are offbeat.

Who is he and what is he famous for?

Frank Stella was born in Massachusetts in America in 1936 and is best known as a minimalist artist. Minimalist art began in the 1950s with a group of artists who did not make paintings and sculptures about the things they saw in the world, like a house, or a bottle, or a snowy landscape. They made paintings and sculptures about the materials they used, like paint, and wood and metal. Their artworks look like they might have been made in a factory.

When Stella was in his early 20s he began a series of paintings called The Black Paintings. Here is what one of them looked like. The Museum of Modern Art, in New York was so impressed with these paintings that they bought some of them.

Frank Stella, ‘[title not known]’ 1967
Frank Stella
[title not known] 1967
Tate
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2017

After that, Stella became known as a hard-edged painter, because the shapes and stripes in his paintings had straight hard edges. He used acrylic paints, which are very bright and dry quickly, not like oil paint, and he used canvas that had not been treated with a base coat of primer, so they looked raw and unfinished.

Frank Stella, ‘Untitled (Rabat)’ 1964
Frank Stella
Untitled (Rabat) 1964
Tate
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2017

Over the years his hard-edge paintings got more and more complicated. He stopped making rectangular paintings and started to use canvases of different shapes, such as ovals and V-shapes. He then stopped hanging them on walls, and instead put them on the floor like sculptures. Here is one of his 3-dimensional paintings made in 1984, it's called Salta nel mio Sacco.

Frank Stella, ‘Salta nel mio Sacco’ 1984
Frank Stella
Salta nel mio Sacco 1984
Tate
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2017

What do you think of Frank Stella’s artwork? Is it jazzy enough for you?

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