Los Angeles

Frank Stella

Ferus Gallery

This is the first West Coast show of paintings by a New York artist who has, up until now, been involved primarily with the metaphysics of the object in space. His paintings, prior to this current show, were composed of evenly shaped, symmetrically arranged stripes of a single solid color. These stripes were designed to conform to the shape of the canvas (often with notched-out areas or in the shapes of straight-edged letters such as H or L) in order to give an illusion of massive solidity and to focus attention on their environmental context. His total elimination of color changes or surface effects (with the exception of narrow strips of raw canvas separating the painted stripes) was designed to further heighten the “object” quality of the pictures and to avoid spatial illusions.

In this current show, Stella seems to have finally decided to face up to the problems of color and tonal variations and of perspective and illusion. These new paintings, all about seven feet square, are of two basic kinds: concentric squares making use of six different tones arranged in repeating order from the outer edges of the canvas to the center, and squared spirals starting at the upper right-hand side of the canvas and leading inward to the center with each straight stripe (these are separated by diagonal breaks running from the corners to the center) alternating the same progression of tones. These two approaches are further broken down with three paintings of each type painted in a series of bright colors, and three in tones of gray, from black to white.

The effect of these pictures is quite different from that of his previous ones. The viewer is no longer involved with the object nature of the painting, but with the color-and-tone-caused in-and-out flicker. This optical illusion is affected as the eye grows used to the tonal jarring, and the narrow strips of raw canvas separating the squares become apparent. Thus, spatial planes jump back and forth from solid-flat to in-and-out. The problem of controlling this illusion is better solved in the “squared spiral” pictures. Here one can read around clockwise into the painting (flat), see four juxtaposed, slightly off center isosceles triangles (flat), or let the tonal planes move in and out as they will (illusion). Furthermore, of these, the black and white pictures seem better controlled than the colored ones.

The tonal effect of the show, though, is one of visual fun. The quietly dominant, imposing quality of Stella’s four earlier series of work—black, silver, copper and solid color—does not come through in these paintings; rather, they tend to be youthful, exciting extensions of the techniques of optical painting.

Donald Factor