Abstract artist Stella 'projects' for capacity crowd at Goucher

October 01, 1991|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,Special to The Evening Sun

WHEN THE painter Frank Stella half-jokingly obliges an interviewer's question about his tactics by making some football strategy-like marks on a Goucher College chalkboard, he seems perfectly at home in the classroom. A leading American artist for 30 years, the 55-year-old artist has always been an able spokesman for a career that has ranged from the austerity of his early all-black paintings to the exuberantly painted metal reliefs he now does.

The stellar Stella appeared Monday night at Goucher for a lecture sponsored by the Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Visiting Professor Series, and this morning Stella was to meet with art students there. "For a major American artist to meet with students is pretty extraordinary," observed Goucher art department chairman Ed Worteck. "Stella has an interest in the intellect and has an art historical framework for his work that parallels our curriculum."

Certainly the more than 1,000 people who turned up last night to hear Stella keenly realized that the artist -- who has been the subject of two career surveys at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1970 and 1987 -- is himself a major link in recent art history.

If Stella's slide lecture proved to be as dense as his slides were dark, he did put across the notion that artists of the 1990s can reinvigorate painting if they grapple with some of the same TC compositional issues as the Renaissance masters. The painting of the 16th century and that of the late 20th century may look very different, but many of the pictorial challenges remain the same.

During the pre-lecture interview, Stella talked about his own ongoing evolution as a painter. "The painting I'm most interested in is the painting I'm going to make tomorrow," said an artist whose work has hardly stood still.

Although he has always been an abstract artist, Stella has gone from a minimalist painterly concern with the spatial relationship of black stripes to canvases that are themselves given geometric shapes and more recently to brightly painted, baroquely conceived metal constructions that project from the gallery wall in a sculptural way.

Because his recent work seems to defy ready-made categories, Stella is often seen as bridging the mediums of painting and sculpture. However, his assemblages don't stand on the floor like sculpture. Instead, these painted reliefs project from the wall like paintings gone mad in three dimensions.

"I don't think of myself in sculptural terms, it's the painting that matters," emphasizes Stella, who is gray of hair but not of attitudes when it comes to expanding the boundaries of painting.

And while his practice of painting on metal reliefs clearly marks "a change because of techniques and materials . . . a whole new ballgame," his interest in painting is still primary. Even if his "paint" amounts to "now using poured metal in the place of

pigment."

For all the technical and aesthetic merit of Stella's work, those searching for any obvious thematic content may walk away scratching their heads. True to his famous slogan that "What you see is what you see," Stella makes totally abstract paintings whose visual impact is immediate but whose emotional impact is a much more subjective matter. In other words, he is making art that is really about itself: how form and color and space affect a viewer.

"No amount of explanation or illustration will do the job," Stella says firmly of artwork that must speak for itself. "If it's good it doesn't need me and it's on its own."

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