Frank Stella is an American painter and printmaker, noted for his work in the areas of minimalism and post-painterly abstraction.
Stella reacted against the expressive use of paint by most painters of the abstract expressionist movement, instead finding himself drawn towards the “flatter” surfaces of Barnett Newman’s work. He began to produce works which emphasized the picture-as-object, rather than the picture as a representation of something in the physical world, or something in the artist’s emotional world.
From 1960 Stella began to produce paintings of shaped canvases in their presentation of regular lines of color separated by pinstripes. During this time, he also began to experiment in a wider range of colors, and expressing an affinity with architecture in their monumentality, Stella also introduced curves into his works, marking the beginning of the Protractor series.
Following a trip to the Middle East, Stella was very inspired by the way the cities’ circular paths interlaced and interweaved like snakes chasing their tails. With that thought it mind he created the Protractor Series. The Protractor series, deploys a vivid palette and composition consisting of rectangular shapes superimposed on curving and circular forms, in which there are three design groups—“interlaces,” “rainbows,” or “fans”—encompasses its surface patterning.
This week’s Work of the Week! – (WOW!), Referendum ’70, is a screenprint based on Frank Stella’s Protractor paintings.
Like many artists of his generation, Frank Stella was politically active and engaged. He participated in several fundraising efforts for which he would donate a complete printed edition to a cause.
Referendum ’70 was based on one of the causes Stella supported: Vietnam Referendum ’70, a Cambridge Massachusetts based anti-war coalition. The work was part of a strategy to help the organization raise funds to support political candidates who were opposed to the Vietnam war.
Aesthetically, the “Referendum ’70” screenprint composition is related to the River of Ponds lithographs associated with the Newfoundland Series, which are variations of Stella’s famed protractor paintings from 1967-1970.
In this print, the squared and double squared formats of interlacing protractors create a psychological distancing. Although the dominant motifs of the Protractor series are circular or curvilinear, every shape is actually defined by pairs of horizontal and vertical lines that intersect at right angles; the gridded rectilinear pattern that is formed is superimposed over the decorative arcs. Through the device of the protractor and the use of an unusual color scheme, Stella brought abstraction and decorative pattern painting into congruence in a manner that challenged the conventions of both traditions.
About Vietnam Referendum ’70:
Vietnam Referendum ’70’s initial goal was to “let the people vote on war.” Originally, the committee dedicated itself to getting the 48,000 statewide signatures needed to force the Vietnam question on the fall ballot. Maurice Donahue, President of the Massachusetts Senate, helped make this effort unnecessary by sponsoring a bill which passed the legislature authorizing the vote. The group, having indirectly achieved its first objective of getting the Vietnam war on the ballot by endorsing Donahue’s bill, shifted to campaigning for immediate withdrawal of troops.
Despite the efforts of the Vietnam Referendum ’70 and Stella’s participation in supporting the effort, the vote was non-binding, no action was legally required by any elected official, be it president Nixon or the Congress. The committee believed that “it will have scored a victory if it can show that no silent majority in favor of the war exists.”
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