Frank Stella

Six Mile Bottom


Not on display

Frank Stella born 1936
Alkyd paint on canvas
Support: 3000 × 1822 mm
Purchased 1972

Display caption

Stella used an ordinary house-painter's brush to establish the width of the stripes and worked with commercial paints taken straight from the can. He wanted to dispel any interpretive reading of his work, commenting in 1964, 'My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there. All I want anyone to get out of my paintings and all I ever get out of them is the fact that you can see the whole idea without any confusion. What you see is what you see.' The title of Six Mile Bottom refers to a village in England, where the poet Byron's half-sister Augusta Leigh lived.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Frank Stella born 1936

T01552 Six Mile Bottom 1960

Not inscribed
Metallic paint on canvas, 118 1/8 x 71 3/4 (300 x 182.2)
Purchased from Steve Schapiro (Grant-in-Aid) 1972
Prov: With Leo Castelli, New York (purchased from the artist); Steve Schapiro, New York, 1966
Exh: Frank Stella, Leo Castelli, New York, September-October 1960 (no catalogue); The Art of the Real, Museum of Modern Art, New York, July-September 1968 (51); L'Art du Réel USA 1948-1968, Centre National d'Art Contemporain, Paris, November-December 1968 (49, repr.); Der Raum in der amerikanischen Kunst 1948-1968, Kunsthaus, Zurich, January-February 1969 (48, repr.); The Art of the Real, Tate Gallery, April-June 1969 (49)
Lit: William S. Rubin, Frank Stella (New York 1970), pp.47-63, repr. p.48 (right-hand picture); Robert Rosenblum, Frank Stella (Harmondsworth 1971), pp.21-3, repr. p.20
Repr: Architectural Review, CXLVI, 1969, p.146

Frank Stella's aluminium paintings followed immediately after his series of black pictures and were the first works in which he departed from the traditional rectangular format. The bands of uniform width were made to jog to one side and then turn again to resume their original directions. By cutting out the shapes left over from the rectangle, he created different types of field with symmetrical notches at the corners or half-way along the sides. 'Six Mile Bottom' and the similar but square 'Avicenna' (a picture bought by Nelson A. Rockefeller but believed to have been damaged or destroyed in the fire at the Governor's residence) were the only two which also had a hole in the centre, and they therefore represented a particularly significant stage in the development of the shaped canvas. 'Six Mile Bottom' still retains its original stretcher, quite roughly nailed together by Stella himself.

Barbara Rose told the compiler on 24 June 1975 that this series was influenced both by Jasper Johns, in that the image and the field are identical, and by Matisse's 'Red Studio', which suggested the white lines between the stripes. The pictures were executed with house painters' brushes, the stripes being the width of the brush. (Stella had earlier made his living partly by working as a house painter). The aluminium series was executed with a commercial paint made to serve as an undercoat for radiators and was done on unprimed unsized cotton duck. The idea of using metallic paint had come from Pollock; Stella, while a student, had once made a drip painting in aluminium and black enamel based on Pollock (coll. Mr and Mrs Morris Guberman, Colorado Springs, Colorado). Each picture needed about five coats of paint and he was only able to paint about one picture a month. The metallic paint served to repel the viewer in being impenetrable to vision and in asserting the plane of the picture surface.

Carl Andre added that he suggested the title 'Six Mile Bottom' to Stella and that, like another title in the series, 'Newstead Abbey', it was a Byronic reference. Augusta Leigh, Byron's half-sister, lived at Six Mile Bottom, Newmarket; Newstead Abbey belonged to the Byron family.

There were altogether eight pictures in this series, all painted in 1960: 'Avicenna', 'Kingsbury Run', 'Newstead Abbey', 'Six Mile Bottom', 'Union Pacific', 'Luis Miguel Dominguin', 'Marquis de Portago' and 'Averroes', though Stella later also made a second version of 'Luis Miguel Dominguin' as the original had been damaged. 'Newstead Abbey' now belongs to the Stedelijk Museum at Amsterdam and 'Union Pacific' to the Los Angeles County Museum.

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.705-6, reproduced p.705

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