An optical sensation, Frank Stella's Mitered Squares emerges as a signature example of the artist's series of Concentric Squares and Mitered Mazes, which he produced during the 1960s. A mesmerizing color study from Stella's classic period, the present lot juxtaposes fluorescent primary and secondary colors interspaced with narrow tracks of unprimed canvas. Electric blue, yellow, and red are balanced by equally vibrant purple, green, and orange. In the series of concentric squares, the effect of expanding and contracting engulfs the viewer into a mesmerizing sensation of rising and falling.
Working toward the reduction of art to its essential qualities, Stella pursued the regularity and logic of grids and mazes, which afforded him an array of lines, shapes, and geometric patterns to build on. Owing its captivating excitement to discord between the controlled composition of the concentric bands and vibrant colors, the dialogue between the formal qualities of the strict pictorial shapes and that of the rainbow hues result in a numbing power all of its own. Stella used the flat, unmixed commercial alkyd paints that he felt expressed perfectly the intentions of his work, creating pictorial structures which allow optical, rather than physical, color combinations. His precision can be seen in the remnants of graphite sketching, yet his application of paint is much looser, bleeding out past the outlined areas. By meticulously applying single coats of paint separated by runs of raw canvas, Stella composed Mitered Squares with luminously colored bands of uniform width divided on each side by a diagonal axis.
The present lot represents the perfect bridge between Stella's early and late works. Stella's art became far more complex in 1962, when he departed from the black paintings and proceeded to examine the possibility of combining different colors or different light values within the same square format and rectilinear patterns. His relationship with color is curious, with his creative breakthrough coming about through a painterly denial of color. Where before Stella made the viewer see the simple fact of yellow, green, red, or blue again, he now resurrected, with trumpet clarity, the undiluted beauty of the color chart sequence of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, and its light value equivalents within analogous gradations. His experimentation with color parallels the work that Josef Albers was creating at the same time, such as Homage to the Square, 1958. In so juxtaposing sequences of different colors or different light values, Stella created variations in light value that reinstated in fresh terms the kind of spatial illusionism that had been rigorously denied in the black, aluminum, copper, and monochrome paintings.
This geometric framework, protruding and receding, becomes still more complicated when adapted to the earlier maze form now harnessed to the flat surface by four diagonals that, due to the irregularity of the mazes pattern, avoid exact convergence in the center. The color or value sequence is now broken down to units of a single stripe, so that the pattern runs in a clockwise movement that is altered at the juncture of each mitered corner. As a result, this slight displacement, together with the sequence of colors, generates a sense of counter- clockwise spiraling inwards towards the center, or conversely a clockwise spiral expanding outwards from it. This effect of maximum optical vibration parallels that of much so called 'Op art' of the early 1960s.
Beginning in the top left with indigo, the stripes are painted in a progressive and cyclical sequence of six colors in spectrum order, with each color applied uniformly at its maximum intensity. As a result, the composition can read, among other ways, as four triangles not quite meeting at the center. Dividing these six colors among four adjacent planes, an intensely hypnotic patterning emerges within each of the triangles, underlining the mathematical purity of this series.
The result of Stella's tedious painting is totally alive and exhilarating. A brilliant labyrinth of movement rising and falling, expanding and contracting, assaults the eye with tumultuous abandon. Yet at the same time, the whirling mazes of Mitered Squares are tautly contained not only by the unyielding clarity of the underlying pattern but by the insistent reference of both the stripes and the white linear web to a surface of absolute flatness.