Los Angeles

Frank Stella

Eleven editions of lithographs by Frank Stella have been completed at Gemini G.E.L. Nine of the editions form a suite entitled Black Series I. Each is 15 1/16 x 22”. They are geometric striped patterns. The respective solution which each print proposes relative to the other eight presents an almost infinite range of possibilities. Their combined interdependence distinguishes them immediately from the 1959 black stripe paintings: conceived sequentially they take on the individual character of totemic images. They were drawn with lithographic pencil on aluminum plates; the white line is created by the absence of ink. The black and white configurations are oriented basically to the left and bottom of the format. All are rectangular; all but one are single to a plate, undivided marginally.

Two issues arise immediately: first, the old question of avoiding flat optical illusionism, which is especially difficult with this kind of design in small scale; and second, the problem of implied three-dimensionality. Neither of these fit Stella’s intention now any more than they ever have. That they come to issue at all is principally owing to expectation or probability. In fact, he has practically obviated optical illusion within a series of images which are, or would seem to be, inherently optical. One means of minimizing optical vibration through contrasting values was to print them on a paper with a yellowish cast. Besides, the black areas are softened by visible pencil strokes; the edges are barely irregular and the color is not a hard black but verges on charcoal grey.

Spatial reference operates positively to a greater extent than purely two-dimensional opticality. For example, line, repeated in a simple rectangular concentric pattern (as in the one entitled Tomlinson Court Park), automatically infers convexity and concavity. But this way of reading spatial inference into the image is not essential or even very important to the underlying conception. The more they are seen as they are—simply flat striated patterns—the more one knows what they are about. In a particular sense, they read as a progressive unfolding, or elaboration, of a single visual idea, much as in Albers’s serial treatment of colored squares. Nor are they any more arbitrary than Albers’s chromatic series.

Star of Persia I and II (26 x 31”) are seven-color lithographs printed in metallic ink on graph paper. The color is translucent and slightly shiny. It was achieved by first printing the entire image with a matte metallic grey ink, and then registering each of the other six colors over the base surface. In the end, the grey ink is visible only as lines traversing the uninked V-shaped contours within the star shape. In view of the necessity for absolute precision in each successive printing, the tight registration is itself remarkable. These editions have greater integrity as lithographs than the Black Series simply because their particular quality would be difficult to attain or even visualize in another medium.

Contrary to Stella’s previous handling of the V-shaped unit in 1964, their positioning here to form a closed, circular entity transforms the original idea into different terms. The star shape is inherently totemic, and becomes more so here because it is placed within a rectangular format. In the earlier V-shaped modular works, the edges of the figuration are at the same time the edges of the support. Since the overall configuration of the star is self-sustaining and unequivocal, its potential for structural readjustment within the pictorial space ceases to matter. With the geometric parameters given, color operates independently. Color is the variable, and its power to determine the character of the image is put forth with great clarity. Star of Persia I (browns, ochre, pink, dark grey-green) is warmer tonally and closer in value than its counterpart. By contrast, the latter print is nearly devoid of the sense of color as substance-filled matter. Although its areas of purple and blue are actually highly saturated hues, they are chastened in proximity to black, grey and green. Structurally, Star of Persia ll asserts itself discretely from its ground as a solid built form; I articulates the continuous subtle interplay of parts among themselves and with the whole.

Jane Livingston