Frank Stella

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Photo of Frank Stella, 2012

Frank Philip Stella (May 12, 1936May 4, 2024) was an American painter, sculptor and print-maker. He was involved in Minimalism, Post-painterly abstraction and offset lithography.


Frank Stella, 1974: 'mural at 'David Mirvish Books', Toronto
Frank Stella, 1976: 'BMW 3.0 CLS car-painting' - info: The BMW 3.0 CSL (Art Car) is the second car of the BMW Art Cars, painted by Frank Stella in 1976. This car ran at the 1976 24 Hours of Le Mans with carrying the number '41'
Frank Stella, 1976: detail of 'BMW 3.0 CLS car-painting'
Frank Stella, 1979: a 'BMW M1 Pro car-painting', commissioned by Stella's friend, racer Peter Gregg - info:this car-painting of Stella intended to commemorate Ronnie Peterson, another racer friend of Stella's who had died after a crash at Monza in 1978
Frank Stella, c. 1984: 'Cones and Pillars, part 2.', painting
Frank Stella, 1991-93: 'Moby Dick', wall-relief; location: The Ritz-Carlton Millenia, in Singapore
Frank Stella, 1993: 'The Town-Ho's Story', sculpture in aluminium and steel
Frank Stella, 1995: 'Newburgh', sculpture of premium steel; location: Ernst-Abbe-Platz in Jena, Thuringia, Germany
Frank Stella, 1995: 'Peekskill', sculpture of premium steel; location: Ernst-Abbe-Platz in Jena, Thuringia, Germany
Frank Stella, c. 1997: 'Stamp-design' for Documenta X in Kassel Germany, 1997
Frank Stella, c. 1999: 'Prince Frederick Arthur of Homburg, General of Cavalry', sculpture in spanda-steel, Aluminium, paint on fiberglass, carbon fiber
Frank Stella, c. 2000: 'Cornucopia', sculpture in fiberglass
Frank Stella, c. 2001: 'Catal Hüyük', sculpture in aluminum pipe and cast aluminum; location: on Hallbergsplatsen in Borås, Sweden - quote of Frank Stella, c. 1999: 'The aim of art is to create space - space that is not compromised by decoration or illustration, space within which the subjects of painting can live.'
Frank Stella, 2005: 'Memantra', sculpture; location: at the roof of Metropolitan Museum of Art, N. Y.C.


  • Only what can be seen there [in the painting] is there.. .What you see is what you see.
    • From an interview (1964), as cited in Harold Rosenberg The Re-Definition of Art (1972), p. 125
  • My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there. It really is an object. Any painting is an object and anyone who gets involved enough in this finally has to face up to the objectness of whatever it is that he's doing. He is making a thing.. ..all I want anyone to get out of my paintings, and all I ever get out of them, is the fact that you can see the whole idea without any confusion.. .What you see is what you see.
    • Cited from Bruce Glaser "Questions to Stella and Judd", Art News (September 1966), p 58-59
  • We believe that we can find the end, and that a painting can be finished. The Abstract Expressionists always felt the painting's being finished was very problematical. We'd more readily say that our paintings were finished and say, well, it's either a failure or it's not, instead of saying, well, maybe it's not really finished.
    • Cited from an interview (1966), as cited in Gregory Battcock (ed.) Minimal Art, a Critical Anthology, Berkeley: University of California Press (1968), p. 157-161
  • If you don't know what Ad Reinhardt's) paintings are about, you don't know what painting is about.
    • Comment after Reinhardt's death (1967), as cited in David Anfam Abstract Expressionism, London: Thames and Hudson (1990)
  • I always get into arguments, with people who want to retain the old values in painting — the humanistic values that they always find on the canvas. If you pin them down, they always end up asserting that there is something there besides the paint on the canvas. My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there. It really is an object. Any painting is an object.
    • As cited in LIFE, 64:3 (19 January 1968), p. 49
  • The idea in being a painter is to declare an identity. Not just my identity, an identity for me, but an identity big enough for everyone to share in. Isn't that what it's all about?!
    • Comment (1960s), as cited in Irving Sandler The New York school – the painters & sculptors of the fifties, New York: Harper & Row (1978), p. 307
  • When Morris Louis|Morris Louis showed in 1958, everybody [like in Art News, by Tom Hess ] dismissed his work as thin, merely decorative. They still do. Louis is the really interesting case... In every sense his instincts were Abstract Expressionist, and he was terribly involved with all of that, but he felt he had to move, too.
    • Comment (1960s), as cited in Irving Sandler The New York school – the painters & sculptors of the fifties', New York: Harper & Row, (1978), p. 319 n. 68
    • On Color field, or stain painting.
  • The thing that struck me most was the way he stuck to the motif [in the 'Flag' and 'Target' paintings by Jasper Johns ].. ..the idea of stripes – the rhythm and the interval – the idea of repetition. I began to think a lot about repetition. [quote, 1960's]
    • Comment (1960s), as cited in Irving Sandler The New York school – the painters & sculptors of the fifties, New York: Harper & Row (1978), pp. 215-216

The Pratt lecture (1960)

The Pratt lecture (1960) in Frank Stella: The Black Paintings, Baltimore Museum of art (1976), as cited in Kristine Stiles & Peter Selz (eds.) Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, - a sourcebook of Artist's writings, Berkeley: University of California Press (1996)
  • 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.
    • p. 113
  • I can't stress enough how important it is, if you are interested at all in painting, to look and to look a great deal at painting. There is no other way to find out about painting. After looking comes imitating. In my own case it was at first largely a technical immersion. How did Kline put down that color? Why did Guston leave the canvas bare at the edges? Why did H. Frankenthaler used unsized canvas. And so on.
    • p. 113
  • I got tired of other's people painting and began to make my own paintings. I found, however, that I not only got tired of looking at my own paintings but that I also didn't like painting them at all. The painterly problems of what to put here and there and how to do it to make it go with what was already there, became more and more difficult and the solutions more and more unsatisfactory. Until finally it became obvious that there had to be a better way.
    • p. 114
  • There were two problems which had to be faced. One was spatial and the other methodological. In the first case I had to do something about relational painting, i. e. the balancing of the various parts of the painting with and against each other. The obvious answer was symmetry – make it the same all over. The question still remained, though, of how to do this in depth. A symmetrical image or configuration symmetrically placed on a open ground is not balanced out in the illusionistic space. The solution I arrived at, and there are probably quite a few, although I only know of one other, color density, forces illusionistic space out of the painting at constant intervals by using a regulated pattern. The remaining problem was simply to find a method of paint application which followed and complemented the design solution. This was done by using the house painters technique and tools.
    • p. 114
  • There's always been a trend toward simpler painting and it was bound to happen one way or another. Whenever painting gets complicated, like Abstract Expressionism, or surrealism, there's going to be someone who's not painting complicated paintings, someone who's trying to simplify...
    • p. 117

Questions to Stella and Judd (September 1966)

Questions to [Frank] Stella and Judd, Bruce Glaser, in Art New 65 no 5 (September 1966), as cited in Kristine Stiles & Peter Selz (eds.) Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, - a sourcebook of Artist's writings, Berekeley: University of California Press, (1996)
  • You are always related [as an artist] to something. I'm related to the more geometric, or simpler, painting, but the motivation doesn't have anything to do with that kind of European geometric painting. I think the obvious comparison with my work would be Vasarely, and I can't think of anything I like less.. ..the 'Groupe de recherché d'Art visuel' actually painted all the patterns before I did – all the basic designs that are in my painting – I didn't even know about it.. still doesn't have anything to do with my painting. I find all that European geometric painting – sort of post Ma Bill school – a kind of curiosity, very dreary.
    • p. 117
  • Ken Noland has put things in the center [of the painting] and I'll use a symmetric pattern, but we use symmetry in a different way. It's non-relational. In the newer American painting [in contrast to European geometric art] we strive to get the thing in the middle, and symmetrical, but just to get a kind of force, just to get the thing on the canvas. The balance factor isn't important.
    • p. 118
  • Ken Noland would use concentric circles; he'd want to get them in the middle [of the painting] because it's the easiest way to get them there, and he want them there in the front, on the surface of the canvas. If you're that much involved with the surface of anything, you're bound to find symmetry the most natural means.
    • p. 118
  • But we're still left with structural or compositional elements. The problems aren't any different. I still have to compose a picture, and if you make an object [as Donald Judd does] you have to organize the structure. I don't think our work that radical in any sense because you don't find any really new compositional or structural element. I don't know if that exists. It's like the idea of the color you haven't seen before. Does something exist that's as radical as a diagonal that's not a diagonal? Or a straight line or a compositional element that you can't describe?
    • p. 119
    • quote from Stella, reacting in the artist-talk on Donald Judd who emphasis the 'whole' of an art work
  • The artist's tool or the traditional artist's brush and maybe even oil paint are all disappearing very quickly. We use mostly commercial paint, and we generally tend toward lager brushes. In a way, Abstract Expressionism started this all. De Kooning used house painter's brushes and house painters' techniques.
    • p. 120
  • Yes, the aluminum paint ... What happened, at least for me, is that when I first started painting I would see [Jackson] Pollock, [Willem] de Kooning, and the one thing they all had that I didn't have was an art school background. They were brought up on drawing and they all ended up painting or drawing with the brush. They got away from the smaller brushes and, in an attempt to free themselves, they got involved in commercial paint and house-painting brushes, Still it was basically drawing with paint, which has the characterized almost all twentieth century painting. The way my own painting was going, drawing was less and less necessary. It was the one thing I wasn't going to do. I wasn't going to draw with the brush.
    • p. 120
  • I didn't want to mask variations; I didn't want to record a path. I wanted to get the paint out of the can and onto the canvas.. .I tried to keep the paint as good as it was in the can.
    • p. 121
  • Clement Greenberg talked about the ideas or possibilities of painting in his - I think -, 'After Abstract Expressionism' article, and he allows a blank canvas to be an idea for a painting. It might not be a good idea, but it's certainly valid. Yves Klein did the empty gallery. He sold 'air', and that was a conceptualized art, I guess.
    • p. 122
  • One could stand in front of any Abstract-Expressionist work for a long time, and walk back and forth, and inspect the depths of the pigment and the inflection and all the painterly brushwork for hours. But I wouldn't particularly want to do that and also I wouldn't ask anyone to do that in front of my paintings. To go further, I would like to prohibit them from doing that in front of my painting. That's why I make the paintings the way they are, more or less.
    • p. 122


  • I think I had been badly affected by ... the romance of Abstract Expressionism ... particularly as it filtered out to places like Princeton and around the country, which was the idea of the 'artist as a terrifically sensitive ever-changing, ever ambitious person', particularly [described] in magazines like Art News and Arts, which I read religiously.
  • I began to feel very strongly about finding a way that wasn't so wrapped up in the hullabaloo ... something that stable in a sense, something that wasn't constantly a record of your sensitivity, a record of flux.
    • Responding to a question about 'gesture panting, as cited in William S. Rubin Frank Stella, New York: Museum of Modern Art (1970), p. 13
  • I wanted something that was direct – right to you eye .. ..something you didn't have to look around – you got the whole thing right away.
  • I do think that a good pictorial idea is worth more than a lot of manual dexterity.
    • Quote from William S. Rubin Frank Stella, New York: Museum of Modern Art (1970), p. 30
  • I see my work, as being determined by the fact that I was born in 1936.
    • As cited in ‎Philip Leider Stella since 1970: exhibition The Fort Worth Art Museum, ‎Fort Worth Art Museum (1978), p. 96


  • The painting never changes once I've started to paint it. I work things out before-hand in the sketches.
    • Cited in Caroline. A. Jones Machine in the Studio, University of Chicago Press (1996), pp. 197-198
  • If we are the best, it is only fair that they imitate us.
    • As cited in Alexander Alberro, ‎Blake Stimson Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology (1999), p. 227


  • The aim of art is to create space - space that is not compromised by decoration or illustration, space within which the subjects of painting can live.
    • As cited in Alan D. Bryce Art Smart: Art Smart: The Intelligent Guide to Investing in the Canadian Art Market (2007), p. 55

Bomb: X Motion Picture and Center for New Art Activities (2000)

Interview in: Bomb: X Motion Picture and Center for New Art Activities (2000), No. 70-73
  • [Asked: "Is that one of the reasons you went into sculpture?"] I don't know how I got into sculpture. I liked its physicality, that's the only reason. I didn't have a program.
    • p. 28,
  • They are more complex to begin with, but their organization, the way they end up being put together, isn't that different. You can't shake your own sensibility. No matter what the concept is; the artist's eye decides when it's right ... which is a notion of sensibility.
    • p. 28.
  • The paintings got sculptural because the forms got more complicated. I've learned to weave in and out.
    • p. 28.
  • I know what I want, but it's physically beyond me now. I can work on what I can handle. It's a playoff between the object and my physical limits.
    • p. 28.
  • I hate to say this.'s made to order. Then, I disorder it a little bit or, I should say, I reorder it. I wouldn't be so presumptuous to claim that I had the ability to disorder it. I wish I did.
    • p. 28.
  • Time is what you have left.. just march with it and use it the best you can.
    • p. 28.
  • They just want to get a handle on you and the idea, and that's enough. Some people sense more but they don't really get into it because it's going one step too far. But the whole idea of making art is to be open, to be generous, and absorb the viewer and absorb yourself, to let them go into it. I have to go into all those places in order to make it work.
    • p. 29.
  • When people still talk about art that I made in the 60's— most of them never saw it, and they never lived through it, and they don't have a clue about it. The idea that they know what minimalism is is absurd. I don't know what minimalism is!
    • p. 29.
  • People say that the paintings are always big because they're striving for effect, but they're also big so that I don't trip over myself, so that I have room to work, and people can come in and be comfortable.
    • p. 29.
  • I don't like a lot of the stuff that goes on in the art world, but it's hard to be old and like what goes on around you. Anyway, the real point is that the things that don't seem to me to be pictorially informed are not so interesting to me.
    • p. 30.

Quotes about Frank Stella

  • Art excludes the unnecessary. Frank Stella has found it necessary to paint stripes. There is nothing else in his painting. Stella is not interested in expression or sensitivity. He is interested in the necessity of painting. Symbols are counters passed among people. Frank Stella's painting is not symbolic. His stripes are the paths of brush on canvas. These path leads only into painting.
  • I've been educated in some pretty lively barrooms, like the Cedar Bar in New York. And I went to high school with Frank Stella and when he got out of college he went to New York and started painting ... I was working with sculpture in a kind of dilatory way, and he said to come up and work in his tiny loft when he wasn't there. At the same time I sort of dabbled in a little bit of painting, and a kind of confusion. I was an eye, ear, nose, and throat person too ... One day Frank Stella just said to me, "Look, if you paint another painting I'm going to cut off your hands." I asked, "Can't I become a good painter?" Frank said, "No, because you are a good sculptor now." That's really my formal education ... the company of artists is the great education.
    • Carl Andre, as quoted in Peggy Gale (ed.) Artists talks 1969 – 1977, Nova Scotia, Canada: The Press N.S.C.A.D (2004), p. 27
  • So I had carved one face with hollows curving in-out, in-out, very simple really. I set the timber upright and Stella came in [in Stella's own loft where Carl Andre was sculpting temporarily] and came over and looked at the chiseling and said it looked good. He turned around to the back of the piece which was uncut – the backside of the timber – and he said, you know that's sculpture too. I supposed what he meant to say was, that cutting was a good idea and the idea of not cutting was good too.
    • Carl Andre, as quoted in Peggy Gale (ed.) Artists talks 1969 – 1977, Nova Scotia, Canada: The Press N.S.C.A.D (2004), p. 29
  • By 1958 when [Frank] Stella came to New York, the art-buying public had become convinced that Americans could produce major painting, worthy of comparison with the best of earlier European modern art. And it was now clear that this work could be sold at prices that made an artist's profession economically feasible.
    • William S. Rubin, as cited in Frank Stella, New York: Museum of Modern Art, (1970), p. 41
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