Frank Stella

Learn about FRANK STELLA (B. 1936), Impressionist & Modern Art artist,their past and upcoming works offered at auction at Christie's

By the late 1950s, many artists felt that the possibilities of Abstract Expressionism had been exhausted. The works of Pollock and Rothko, once so revolutionary, appeared now to be overly beholden to the conventions of representational art, no matter how abstracted. Pop Art would be the next step in one direction, but, for American painter and pioneer of Minimalism Frank Stella, the solution would be something radically different.

Stella was born in Massachusetts, and his artistic training was brief. He took art courses as a student at his prestigious private school, Andover, and continued painting as a history undergraduate at Princeton. But in 1959, only a year after leaving university, he burst onto the New York art scene fully formed when four of his huge black striped paintings were exhibited at MOMA’s show, Sixteen Americans. The Black Paintings (1959-1960) are now considered seminal masterpieces of Minimalism. At the time, they caused a sensation: Stella, at the age of 23, had single-handedly purged illusionistic representation from the canvas. A painting had become, as he said, simply “a flat surface with paint on it”. It was a revolutionary moment in the history of art.

Together with his Aluminium (1960) and Copper Paintings (1960-1) and his shaped canvases of the early 1960s, the Black Paintings remain Stella’s defining masterpieces. But over his extraordinary career he would develop his ideas with increasing exuberance. Bright colour appeared in paintings such as his Protractor series (1967–71), and by the 1970s his work was becoming more and more sculptural. The Polish Village series (1971–73) were huge collages of overlapping planes of painted wood, while his ‘tableaux’ pieces, many inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, burst sculpturally from the rigid confines of the frame in riots of colour and stylistic tics of past ages of modern art. He has also produced freestanding sculpture such as the monumental Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X (1998-2001).

The rigid, systematic approach that produced the Black Paintings in the early 1960s has become, in Stella’s later years, a play of colour, form and artistic reference completely unique to contemporary art.

Upcoming lots by this artist