Understanding Stella: The Scarlatti K series

Here's how Frank Stella uses 3D printing, cutting-edge software and baroque music to reinvent painting
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K. 432, from the Scarlatti K series, by Frank Stella. All images from our new book, Frank Stella
K. 432, from the Scarlatti K series, by Frank Stella. All images from our new book, Frank Stella

If you had to reinvent common artistic processes for 2018, what would you do? You’d probably throw in a digital element, but also include some way of developing and perhaps improving an individual artist’s gestures and manual efforts. In, short, you might come up with something a little like the methods the US painter Frank Stella employs to create his Scarlatti K series.

The title, and original source of inspiration is far from contemporary. Stella took the name from the eighteenth-century baroque composer Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti and the 20th century American musicologist Ralph Kirkpatrick who catalogued Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas.

 

K. 507 from the Scarlatti K series by Frank Stella
K. 507 from the Scarlatti K series by Frank Stella

Mirroring Goethe’s maxim that architecture is frozen music, Stella says his bright, colourful Scarlatti K works offer a kind of visual “rhythm and movement that you get in music.” However, in order to mimic these old pieces of music, Stella uses the latest technology.

First he handcrafts a few appropriate forms, then he scans these digitally. He refines these forms within a computer, then fabricates them using similarly advanced technology, rendering some elements via a 3D printer in a white resin, protogen RPT, and other parts in stainless steel; he often paints them using conventional car paint.

 

K. 304, from the Scarlatti K series by Frank Stella
K. 304, from the Scarlatti K series by Frank Stella

The works are, of course, sculptures; yet it’s probably more fruitful to think of them, with their bright colours, sharp lines and clear indebtedness to earlier abstract artists such as Kandinsky, as part of Frank Stella’s lifelong investigation of painting. As Frank said back in 1960, “There are only two problems in painting: One is to find out what painting is, and the second is to find out how to make a painting.”

 

Frank Stella, New York, 2017
Frank Stella, New York, 2017

The Scarlatti K series, which Stella has been making since 2006, answers both those questions, albeit in a way few of us could have imagined only a few years before.

 

Our new Frank Stella book

For more on Frank Stella’s work then and now order a copy of our new book on this important contemporary artist.


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