Frank Stella (b. 1936)
Frank Stella (b. 1936)

Grey Scramble

Frank Stella (b. 1936)
Grey Scramble
alkyd on canvas
69 x 138 in. (175.3 x 350.5 cm.)
Painted in 1968.
Lawrence Rubin Gallery, New York
Charles Diker, New York
The Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1978

Lot Essay

"The reason I used color that way at first, was to fit the new work into the whole thinking of the striped pictures in general. I wanted to use a fairly formalized, programmatic kind of color" (F. Stella, quoted in W. Rubin, Frank Stella, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1970, p. 76).

A mesmerizing color study from Stella's classic period, matching each of the three primaries against the three secondary colors interspaced with a stepped progression of greys and black and white, Grey Scramble is made of a pair of concentric squares on one lateral canvas. Following the astonishingly refined innovations of the two prior series of shaped canvases, this work is made on unprimed canvas over Stella's signature 3-inch stretcher (the same width as each painted line), using the flat commercial alkyd paints that he felt expressed perfectly the intentions of this work.

Concentric Squares and Mitered Mazes is the title for this series of 20 works, in which Stella returned to square and a doubled square format, developing a study of colors diagrammatically related to black, white and the grey scale. This period just followed his invention of the shaped canvas, expressed in two monochrome series of large scale works that are supremely elegant and immensely important to the progression of Modern Art.

Made in the first few years of the heroic period that ushered in a new era of abstraction in art and was closely associated with the artists whose work came to called minimalist, Stella wished to reinforce the pure formal nature of his work, as expressed in this well known statement: "My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there...If the painting were lean enough, accurate enough or right enough you would just be able to look at it. 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" (F. Stella, quoted in Ibid.).

Grey Scramble underlines the almost mathematical purity of this series, and refers back to the biaxial symmetry of his breakthrough Black series of 1960. Taking on issues of color in a structural way, he achieves an effect that resembles Bach's fugues.

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