PRINT October 2003

Frank Stella

There’s a picture Hollis Frampton took in the mid-’60s of me in Rosenquist’s studio sitting in front of Growth Plan—a painting of little kids at camp. I probably first met Jim around the time that photograph was taken. I knew him a little bit, just as I knew all the other artists. The art scene in New York was pretty casual then, and it wasn’t a big deal to visit someone’s studio, whether it was Jasper Johns, Bob Rauschenberg, Larry Poons, or John Chamberlain. It was straightforward: You did occasional studio business, saw the shows, and met after exhibition dinners—a lot of Chinese dinners. Today people may look back at the ’60s and see a division between abstract painting and painters who were doing Pop, but at the time it wasn’t a question of taking sides, because there really weren’t any sides. Everybody was in it together. By and large, the scene, including Minimalists, Pop artists, Color Field painters, and leftover Abstract Expressionists, was fluid and well integrated. Certainly I didn’t think there was any opposition between my work and Rosenquist’s.

I loved Growth Plan. I felt a connection to his paintings’ scale—those canvases were big by the standards of their time—and the way he used scale to make a dramatic pictorial statement. His sign-painting technique and materials also helped him to get away from standard art procedures, a desire I shared. If you say Jim’s work at the time came out of billboard painting, then you could say mine came out of house painting. Of course, the move away from art procedures and paints had precedents—the Mexican muralists and Pollock used enamel, for example. Even Picasso was using house paint and metallic paint. Still, Jim’s work in particular had some influence on me that didn’t show up maybe until later on. I think he must be influencing the mural-size paintings I’m doing now. In fact, I think in some ways his work has been getting stronger over time. His new work, with its inclusiveness, seems to have crystallized into an idea about how you see the world. It seems to be a little sharper somehow, more intense, more brought together—less like a landscape. The best billboards are the simplest, but he can make a complex billboard with the punch of a simple one. It’s less like a snapshot and more like a determined photograph.

Frank Stella’s exhibition “Bamboo,” featuring new work inspired by the photo-essay “Balinese Character” by anthropologists Bateson and Mead, was on view last spring at Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York.