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Frank Stella
Marriage of Reason and Squalor, 1967
Gift of Lawrence Rubin

Frank Stella’s print Marriage of Reason and Squalor is part of Black Series I, a portfolio of 9 lithographs published by Gemini G.E.L. and based on earlier paintings with the same titles.  The companion painting for this work, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II (1959) is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

Stella’s early work denies illusionistic space, emphasizing flatness and the materiality of the canvas or paper instead. The lines in these prints are done free hand in metallic gray-black ink; compared to his paintings, the lines are slightly clearer, making the geometric designs extremely dynamic. The image is presented in the lower left corner of the paper, associating the lines of the print with the paper itself and so emphasizing the materiality of the paper as object. The juxtaposition of the stark geometric lines with its off center location further creates a kind of optical illusion with its unsettling asymmetry and imbalance.

These widely recognized prints exemplify Stella’s early style. Inspired by Jasper Johns, the parallel lines and patterns present the entire painting to the viewer at once. Stella’s famous line, “What you see is what you see,” encapsulates his concept of painting as both image and object. Beginning in 1960 with his Aluminum Paintings and Copper Paintings, Stella started experimenting with shaped canvases and reflective surfaces, leading up to the vibrant sculptures and prints he creates today.

-Victoria Kung ’14, Curatorial Intern

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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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