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Frank Stella, River of Ponds II from Newfoundland Series. Art and Design at Freemans

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Shannon Jeffers
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Published: 10 December 2015

Art + Design Sale Features Bold Geometric Work of Frank Stella

Frank Stella, River of Ponds II from Newfoundland Series. Art and Design at FreemansFreeman’s inaugural Art + Design sale is slated for March 20, 2016. It is a continuum of Freeman’s long commitment to the applied and decorative arts. The sale will showcase a carefully curated selection of graphic works with a special emphasis on bold color interactions, geometric compositions and abstract patterns. Frank Stella's “River of Ponds II” from Newfoundland Series is a prime example of the kind of fresh graphic design featured in the sale.

Frank Stella was first introduced to the print medium in 1967 by master printer Ken Tyler. Tyler had established his own atelier, Gemini G.E.L. two years prior and was searching for prominent artists to join his workshop. Stella had already made a name for himself in the art world for his minimalist, geometric paintings, significant for their departure from the dominant Abstract Expressionist style of the time. Initially, Stella had no interest in working with prints; his response to Tyler’s many invitations was that he only worked with felt-tipped pens when drawing. Yet, Tyler was persistant and finally seduced Stella after giving him a lithographic tusche disguised as a marker with which he could draw directly on the lithographic stone. Stella later recalls, “I resisted his overtures as hard as I could. Nevertheless, Ken prevailed and a few weeks later I was chained to a table covered with aluminum plates.”  Despite this intial reluctance, the partnership between artist and printer grew to be extremely successful as the even, mechanical and anonymous quality of the Gemini style perfectly complimented Stella’s precise geometric designs. 

As he did with his paintings, Stella executed his prints in series- each one consisting of a variety of solutions to a specific formal problem. And while his prints were customarily based on his paintings, they were almost always reinvented so as to discover new solutions to his previously investigated forms.  For example, the Newfoundland Series  (1971) was based on a series of paintings of the same name created a few years earlier. Stella modified the prints, creating a “pyschologically distancing” effect that is quite different from the immediacy of the paintings on which they were based. For instance, he framed the squared and double-squared interlacing protractors with white margins and screenprinted an outline around his segmented shapes, thus intensifying the powerful tension between each color, highlighting the movement of each shape and fortifying the geometric form. As Stella was always concerned with the strength of the image, he added flourescent inks and gloss-varnish in order to enhance the color and vary the texture, therefore increasing the visual impact of the surface as a whole. “River of Ponds II” from the Newfoundland Series will be auctioned in Freeman’s inaugural Art + Design sale on March 20. 

Over the years, as Stella’s familiarity with the medium increased and his technical mastery developed, so did his exploration into the endless creative possibilities prints had to offer. The print medium provided Stella with another outlet for his innovations and is vital to our understanding of his oeuvre as a whole. He explored a range of techniques, including screenprinting, intaglio, collage, relief and offset lithography, as well as a range of sizes- his 1992 mural print The Fountain required a custom 500 ton–platen press to be designed. Together, he and Tyler pushed the boundaries of the medium, their innovations forever changing the art of printmaking.  As Richard Axsom so perfectly states, “the regenerative nature of Stella’s art stems from a factor central to Stella’s printmaking: the making, the love of making something.”

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Image: Frank Stella (American, B. 1936), “River of Ponds II” from Newfoundland Series, est. $5,000-7000. To be offered 03/20/16

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