Executed in 1978, Frank Stella’s D.Scramble: Ascending Green Values/ Ascending Spectrum is pure visual poetry, a meditative amalgam of spectral colour and tonal progression. At a distance the progression of uniform fields colour have an inherent rhythm, compelling the eye to its centre. The pure opticality of the dazzling surface hums with energy, the spaces between the colours creating a relief for the eye. For Stella, the emblematic concentric squares were a powerful summation of his entire Modernist practice. Stella’s Scramble series mark both the culmination and the reprisal of the artist’s earlier Concentric Square paintings of the decade prior, which featured extreme ranges or nearmonochromatic compositions. In contrast, D.Scramble: Ascending Green Values/ Ascending Spectrum offers a rhythmic progression of alternate bands of colour according to the chromatic spectrum - violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. This pattern is interspersed with a smooth, ascending gradation of green tones. The prismatic array of colours and the graded shades of green create an optical illusion of perspective that draws our eye into the depths of the painting. Reprising and refining the chromatic explorations of the Concentric Squares, the present work represents a return to this controlled system of production at a time when Stella was introducing literal space and the interplay of curvilinear forms into his practice through relief structures that projected out from the wall. Hailed by critic Michael Fried as a trailblazer of Modernism, Frank Stella, along Kenneth Noland and Anthony Caro, took Formalist art to its most pure and logical extreme. In reaction to the emotional gesture of the Abstract Expressionism, Stella strove for formal structure as content, focusing only on the material presence of the artwork and its status as a unique object. Stella’s work opened the door to new aesthetic possibilities of Minimalism, by reducing visual language to the barest of essentials, working with modular forms and mathematical progressions.
Reflecting Greenberg and Fried’s delight in pure painting that is defined by flat fields of colour, Stella used the pure, unmixed commercial alkyd paints that he felt expressed perfectly the intentions of his work, creating pictorial structures which allow optical, rather than physical, colour combinations. Through the use of colour and line alone, Stella’s concentric squares introduce a strange vertiginous sensation in the viewer through the powerful rhythm of stripes – resemble a tunnel, drawing us into the work, making it almost sculptural and defying the two-dimensional limitations of the canvas. The bands of paint are regulated by the width of the paintbrush and the slightly coarse edges reveal the evidence of the painting’s construction; 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.