Frank Stella, “The Circuit Series”, 1982-1984, Woodcut and Relief Prints on Hand-Dyed Paper
Born in Malden, Massachusetts in May of 1936, Frank Philip Stella is an American painter, printmaker and sculptor known for his work in the fields of post-painterly abstraction and minimalism. He learned about the abstract modernist painters, such as Hans Hofmann and Josef Albers, during his studies at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Stella entered Princeton University with a major in history; there he met and became friends with abstract painter Darby Bannard and modernist art critic and historian Michael Fried.
Stella’s frequent visits to the many art galleries in New York City stimulated his artistic development. His work bears the influence of his exposure to the abstract expressionist work of such artists as action-painter Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, known for his signature style of black on white abstraction. After graduation, Stella moved to New York City where he established a studio and permanent residence. In 2015 he moved his studio space to Rock Tavern, a small New York town on the edge of the Stewart State Forest.
After Frank Stella moved to New York, he focused exclusively on his painting and found his success after two accidental, but innovative, paintings. Known as the Black Paintings, they consisted of penciled lines drawn on raw canvas where the open spaces were partially filled with black house paint. Since that time, Stella has consistently developed increasingly complex variations of selected themes over the years. He has constantly challenged himself by working in sculpture, lithography, silk screen printing, etching and offset lithography.
After having established himself as a painter, Stella began making prints in 1967. He initially worked predominately with lithography, but also did intaglio prints and screen prints. Stella’s prints, like his paintings, were created in series and continued the aesthetic he had brought to his paintings. For his print production, Stella began working in 1967 with master printmaker and publisher Kenneth Tyler, owner of the print atelier Gemini Graphic Editions Limited. Known for the quality of its work, this print atelier drew many famous artists to its workshops including Jasper Johns, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Anthony Caro, and Robert Rauschenberg.
The sixteen prints of Frank Stella’s 1982 -1984 “Circuits Series” represented a dramatic shift in his attitude toward printmaking. While working on a series of sculptural relief paintings, Stella had the idea that the remnants from his sculptural work could be rolled with ink and used for relief printing. He noticed that the outlines of the different shapes cut from sheet metal had been incised into the plywood backing boards. Stella was struck by the layered network of lines and curved shapes traced onto the wood.
From this point in time, Stella’s print practice would be the influence for his work in other mediums, with each project pushing the boundaries of his printmaking. Working with Kenneth Tyler, he experimented with the “Circuit Series” in tandem with his developing relief paintings. By layering woodblocks and collaging them with etched metal plates, then printing them on specially crafted, hand-dyed sheets of oversize paper, Stella produced prints of innovational scale, complexity and bold color. This series was the first time Stella used color-stained paper and magnesium plates for printing.
“The “Circuits Series” was inspired by the race tracks that Stella visited in the different parts of the world: the Talladega in Alabama, the Pergusa and Imola racetracks in Italy, and the Estoril in Portugal. Stella incorporated twisting and circular shapes within the series to convey the high-speed courses. In all the images of the series, the visual image of the racetrack remains consistent; however, the curvilinear shapes are sometimes highly irregular and become increasingly enhanced by the use of multiple colored inks.
The National Gallery of Australia holds the most comprehensive collection of Frank Stella’s innovations in print, with over eleven-hundred prints, experimental proofs, and matrices, including more than one-hundred twenty related to the “Circuits Series”. Images from the series are in private and other public collections including Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery in New York, the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, and both the Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Top Insert Image: Bob Berg, “Frank Stella, New York Studio”, May 1995, Color Print, Getty Images
Second Insert Image: Frank Stella, “Imola Three I”, 1982, “Circuits” Series, Relief and Woodcut with Aquatint on Handmade, Hand-Colored Paper, 167.6 x 132.1 cm, Private Collection
Third Insert Image: Frank Stella, “Estoril Five II”, 1982, “Circuits” Series, Relief and Woodcut with Aquatint on Handmade, Hand-Colored Paper, 167.6 x 132.1 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: Christopher Gregory (New York Times), “Frank Stella, New York City”, 2019, The Renate, Hans & Maria Hoffmann Trust