Frank Stella’s K. 17 (lattice variation) lies at the crossroads of painting, drawing and sculpture. In this striking work, the artist weaves slender silver tubes around a spiraling center; the polychromatic core acting as the source from which all other elements emanate. Vibrant blues shift into warm pinks and golden, metallic yellows as Stella choreographs a visual symphony of color and form. This opulent palette is heightened and tempered by the changing light (accentuated by the lattice variations cut into some of the elements) as a series of dramatic shadows are cast out into its surroundings. Thus, K. 17 (lattice variation) turns painting’s traditional depiction of illusionistic space into a real projection which constantly shifts depending on the changing perspective of the viewer.
This work belongs to a series based on the lyrical dynamism of music. Begun in 2006, each work in the Scarlatti Kirkpatrick Series is assigned a “K” number after the renowned Yale musicologist and harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick. However each composition is not a literal interpretation of a particular piece of music; instead it is designed to give a sense of visual rhythm, as the artist himself explains: “If you were able to follow an edge,” he says, “and follow it through quickly, you’d get that sense of rhythm and movement that you get in music” (F. Stella, quoted in Stella Sounds: The Scarlatti K Series, via http://www.phillipscollection.org/events/2011-06-11-exhibition-stella [accessed 8/18/2016]).
Thus, Stella manages to combine several different artistic genres into a single form. Elsa Smithgall, the curator of an exhibition of Scarlatti Kirkpatrick Series works at the Phillips Collection in Washington. D.C., elucidates: “They combine sculpture, painting and even drawing, since Stella sees the armatures as a form of drawing that serves to orient the polychrome sculpture in space. There’s color, movement and abstraction” (E. Smithgall, ibid.). Indeed, labelling such works as purely sculpture limits them. As Donald Kuspit, professor at large at Cornell University, explains, “To call Stella’s sculptures constructions is to miss the point: they are deconstructions of sculpture into paradoxically painterly fragments. They are sort of two-dimensional expressionistic paintings that expand into three-dimensional sculptures” (http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/frank-stella11-3-09.asp).
Stella’s lyrical works are highly indebted to the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky. Stella was a great admirer of the Russian painter’s work and often wrote and lectured about the artist, praising the convulsiveness of Kandinsky’s early breakthrough abstractions. Like Kandinsky, in K. 17 (lattice variation) Stella has fused expressionist intensity and a degree of constructivist calculation into a work that can be read as a grand climax in the history of modernism.