FRANK STELLA, IFAFA I, 1967
Frank Stella once commented that “There are two problems in painting. One is to find out what painting is and the other is to find out how to make a painting. The first is learning something and the second is making something.” This brief quote sums up two things about Stella and his work that I found fascinating as a student of Post-War art and theory – firstly that Stella was prepared to address complex ideas simply rather than wrapping his thoughts in layers of verbosity, and secondly that he might provide a gateway between traditional painting and what lay beyond. I became fascinated by Stella’s work as a teenager and I was particularly excited by our acquisition of Ifafa I. The work is a collage study for Ifafa I, a shaped canvas painting, as well as a lithograph from the V Series. The collage itself is made up from printed material, arranged and mounted by hand on card.
Stella’s importance to 20th and 21st century art is hard to overstate. He took the pictorial advances of the Abstract Expressionists and stripped the paintings of pomposity. His reductive compositions allowed the painting to exist as an object in itself and not simply as a representation of another object, figure or view. He wasn’t the first artist to paint geometric forms of course, but he was among the first to abandon the rectilinear form of traditional painting and to deploy symmetry so centrally in his compositions. His use of household paints was again not especially new – Pollock for one had used similar materials – but he employed them to provide a perfectly flat surface devoid of artistic mark making. By doing so he placed importance on the object rather than the maker, paving the way for Minimalist art and Post-Painterly abstraction.
Stella was a brave pioneer who created a beautiful and astonishing body of work in the 1960s but who continues to develop and evolve to this day. Being taught about Stella’s work and having the chance to see examples in museums and commercial galleries has helped me immeasurably in my understanding of modern and contemporary art. I had the chance to meet him once at a gallery opening in the 1990s, but rather fearful of saying something silly, I simply turned and looked at art on the wall. I don’t regret doing that – the works spoke for themselves.
FRANK STELLA (American b. 1936)
Ifafa I, 1967
Unique collage on paper
14 7/8 x 22 1/8 in / 38 x 56 cm
Signed & dated lower right; inscribed "Collage + printing" lower left