Spotlight: Frank Stella’s Blue Horizon

Frank Stella-BlueHorizon 1958

Frank Stella, 5 Eldridge Street (Blue Horizon), 1958
Oil and enamel on canvas, 73 x 73
David Winton Bell Gallery, Gift of Lawrence Rubin

Frank Stella, 5 Eldridge Street (Blue Horizon)

Blue Horizon (1958) is one of the last paintings Frank Stella made before beginning on the ground-breaking series of minimal Black Paintings for which he is best known. Produced during the summer after he graduated from Princeton University, Blue Horizon was likely begun at Stella’s Eldridge Street studio and finished at his West Broadway studio, where the Black Paintings were also completed (he shared this studio with Carl Andre).[1] Thus the alternate title, 5 Eldridge St, which is written on the back of the canvas.  Stella’s monochromatic use of color and horizontal stripes that fill the canvas anticipate his Black Paintings.

Stella was interested in pursuing a radical departure from the dominant paradigm of abstract expressionism­­­—with its gestural brushstrokes and associated existential angst. Looking to Jasper Johns’s systematically produced paintings of targets and flags, Stella built upon the use of reductively simple, repetitive compositional structures. At Eldridge, Stella painted “blocks” that he struggled to position in non-relational ways. Frustrated by the associative properties of these juxtaposed blocks, he painted them over entirely with stripes. Nonetheless, in Blue Horizon the appearance of vertical stripes across the center right of the canvas reveal the underlying presence of these geometric forms. Dissatisfied with this illusionary effect Stella turned to unprimed canvas for the Black Paintings. Stella’s Black Paintings follow the internal logic of the canvas and seem only to refer to the process of their own making. Each stripe is exactly the width of the paintbrush, and the placement and number of stripes is determined by the parameters of the canvas support.

The Bell Gallery collection also includes two series in which Stella transposed the compositions of the Black Paintings in prints.  Black Series I and II each contain eight lithographs and were printed at Gemini G.E.L in 1967.

-ALM

[1] Megan R. Luke, “Objecting to Things,” in Frank Stella 1958 ed. Harry Copper and Megan R. Luke (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 23.

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