Sunday, December 14, 2008

5 things about Frank Stella

Frank Stella, "Severambia"
  1. Frank Stella is one of those artists whose work I like, but that I recognize I like for the wrong reasons. I find his work emotionally evocative, saying difficult and complex things that no other artist seem to be saying. I believe these are the wrong reasons to like this work because I have read consistently, from his straight-talking mouth, that his art is purely about the visual experience and it stops there. What you see is what you see.
  2. When I find some resonance in a work of art, it is not because I am ringing its bell but because it is ringing mine, so maybe Stella is on mission and I am using it incorrectly. And I could argue that there are many ways to ring a bell, but a professional bell-ringer would shake their head no and take the bell from my hands.
  3. Part of the problem I have with his expressed intentions, free as he is to have them, is that I can't believe that anyone with such a bloodless view of painting would bother doing it for so long and so well, such as the free-standing mural "Severambia" above that I had the fortune of seeing in person during a trip to New York in 1995 (discussed here), he seems unwilling to give up any fleshy exposures in his armor. It is in those fleshy exposures that I look for art. Stella is calling me out to face that I like my own interpretation of art in deference to the art being interpreted. And for whatever reason - lack of self-confidence, lingering suspicion that I am a fraud or merely an idiot laboring under delusions - that stings. I just suddenly remembered something about Frank Stella being a Judo master, and I was going to remark that my own weight was used against me, but a quick search revealed that no, Yves Klein was the Judo master. Frank Stella races cars. I've simply been out performed by a highly-tuned and specific engine.
  4. This afternoon I read an interview with him in The Believer, where like in every other interview I've read with him, he generally (in this case not directly because the subject is dead horse material in Stella literature) dismisses the magic I look for in painting as hokum, sticking to his guns that paint is just paint, canvas is just canvas and things are just things. Without knowing him personally, he strikes me as kind of a jerk.
  5. And like with most jerks, they leave an insatiable itch in my joints that they are right. His take on the practice of painting is not a Socratic win but a raw conclusion from the data. The magic of art is just that - illusions and allusions to illusions, the viewer summoning the ethereal out of pigment on canvas smeared that way for reason that have nothing to do with us or are likely to be revealed to us is like an alchemist cackling in his cave about gold conjured from lead. Stella is even gracious enough to lay out why his art takes the form it does - he likes the way it looks, and in that I wholly agree with him, and I believe in the middle of that circle I had to traverses to come to this agreement lies The Truth, and I have just missed at every turn. Stella would probably say I'm just walking in circles, and I'd be forced to admit, yes, you are probably right. Jerk.

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