Understanding Stella: The Scarlatti K series
Here's how Frank Stella uses 3D printing, cutting-edge software and baroque music to reinvent painting
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.
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.
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.”
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.
For more on these paintings and many others order a copy of our new Frank Stella book, part of our Contemporary Artist series. And you can catch some great Frank Stella work at these exhibitions: New York, NY, Loretta Howard Gallery, Racers: Larry Poons and Frank Stella until February 10. Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern Block Museum of Art, Experiments in Form: Sam Gilliam, Alan Shields and Frank Stella, until June 24, Fort Lauderdale, FL, NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, Frank Stella: Experiment and Change, until July 1, 2018 and Tuttlingen, Germany, Galerie der Stadt Tuttlingen, Frank Stella Prints (title tbd), October 6 – November 25, 2018. Meanwhile, on Friday, February 9 there is ‘An Evening with Frank Stella’ at the University of Houston. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Euphonia there will be a discussion between Frank, Rick Lowe and Alison de Lima Green.