Interlagos VIII 3x, 1983 is a magnificent example of Frank Stella's Circuits, a series of relief paintings that dominated his career from 1981 to 1983. Here we have an exuberant composition bursting with color and curves, exhibiting a complex interplay of layers of curves that masterfully come together as a rich morphological representation of the racetrack in Sao Paolo, Brazil from which it takes its name.
Considered by many including the late scholar and Museum of Modern Art curator William Rubin to be his most outstanding group of paintings, Circuits represents the second phase of a monumental change in Stella's career that began with the Exotic Birds series in 1981. At this time, Stella made a dramatic move beyond the geometric paintings upon which he established his career as one of the most important artists to move beyond abstract expressionism, and by so doing presage the onslaught of minimalism. Stella, unlike many of his contemporaries within those movements, was able to successfully go beyond his early artistic inclinations that produced the renowned Black Paintings, the astonishing geometric works such as his chevron paintings, and the acclaimed Irregular Polygon and Protractor series. While the notion of a "signature style" became ever more dominant in the 1960's, Stella refused to be beholden to one style. By the early seventies he was was creating remarkable work that demonstrated a bold new approach, and represented the first stage of his career-long metamorphosis from painter to sculptor, to his eventual engagement with architecture. As Paul Goldberger wrote in the catalogue accompanying the 2007 exhibit "Frank Stella, Painting Into Architecture" at the Metropolitan Museum: "If there is anything that characterizes Frank Stella's protean career as a painter, it is a desire to break out of the canvas, to go beyond the limits imposed by a conventional two-dimensional rectangle within a frame." (Paul Goldberger. "Frank Stella Architecture," in Frank Stella, Painting Into Architecture, Exhibition Catalogue, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 11). He first began to pursue this yearning in the painted reliefs of the Exotic Birds series, but his "tendency toward the extravagant," as Stella himself described it (William Rubin. Frank Stella 1970-1987, Exhibition Catalogue, New York: Museum of Modern, 48) is fully realized in the voluptuous curvilinear works of Circuits. A later work in the series, Interlagos VIII 3x brings to fruition all the power and glory of the artist's painted relief works of this period.
Interlagos VIII 3x like all of the works of Circuits, began with a series of 24 drawings and Foamcore maquettes that became the focal point of Stella's work in 1980 as the last of the Exotic Birds was being produced. By 1981, the first aluminum enlargements of the macquettes began to arrive at Stella's studio awaiting his application of a gorgeous cacophony of color, and launching a period in which Stella worked "flat out," signaling "the longest and most concentrated streak of work that I've ever had," as he described it. (Ibid., 95). In Interlagos VIII 3x we see the wondrous shapes and curves that he composed with draftsman's tools including Flexicurves which can be altered to provide all manner of smooth curves and arcs and a set of were prefabricated curvilinear shapes used for boat design. Also evident is the arabesque that he introduced in Exotic Birds, but here, Stella goes beyond the designs he created in that series with its "the almost total subversion" of the rectangular and geometric shapes of his earlier work to. (Ibid., 59)
Rubin compared the surprise of Stella's works of this period to the dramatic moment in 1946 when Pollock introduced his all over poured pictures and the late, esteemed scholar and curator Robert Rosenblum posed the question "how do we explain the artist who first defined himself in 1959 by scraping his painting to the flattest, leanest most minimal bones is the same one who, less than twenty years later, embraces a vocabulary so maximal that the very plane of the painting's surface has to burst forward in ever-multiplying layers to accommodate this teeming profusion?" (Ibid., 12)
Of course, the question is rhetorical but a few clues to Stella's evolution can be found. The lively energy of the Exotic Birds has been attributed to the inspiration of his second wife who was an avid birder, while Circuits was born out of a favorite recreation of the artist - car racing. His infatuation with fast cars dates back to the mid-1970's when BMW gave him one in exchange for decorating a racing car that competed in a Le Mans series race. Just prior to creating Interlagos VIII 3x in 1982 Stella was arrested for speeding, not so much exceeding as demolishing the posted limits, hurtling along at 105 miles per hour.
Like the other works in the series like Talledaga take its name - and shape - from the world's top Grand Prix racing. Autdromo de Interlagos is the former name of storied racing track now called Autdromo José Carolos Pace (named for José Carlos Pace, a Brazilian Formula One driver who died in a plane crash) located in Sao Paolo, Brazil . It was home to the first World Championship Brazilian Grand Prix in 1973, and it is one of a minority of racing circuits that is not oval and goes counter-clockwise. It is also notorious for its hilliness and bumpy track surface. Such flaws caused it to be abandoned by Formula One racing until its renovation in 1990. It is not surprising that Stella would have preferred to echo the unruliness that ensued from the more dangerous, irregular original track.
Shapes, in all their infinite possibilities, are fundamental to Stella's work and
which he is passionate about. He once said:
"They mean something special to me. I love the shapes as shapes and, for me, they have an intrinsic identity and value. I like them in themselves and don't see them just as forms to be manipulated. They're very personal; I like them the way someone might like his girlfriend's ankle. I distinguish them from some other forms in the reliefs, they have something more for me-I can't elaborate it - though I don't expect anyone else to like them in that kind of way. (Ibid., 117)
Interlagos VIII 3x has the power and beauty to elicit this response to shapes in its undulating vibrancy and frenzied palette. Beyond this, it allowed him to exploit his fascination with shapes, Circuits represented a rebirth for the artist. It was shortly after visiting the 1980 Picasso retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, that Stella began his Circuits series. He found the show "devastating," carefully observing Picasso's leaps from one style to another. Stella said: "The show was devastating. The step-by-step development of Cubism was so exciting.And then, incredibly, it just seemed to stopHe was sort of reborn. What hit me so hard was, in part, an analogy with the way I see myself.I mean it seems possible to do something really good, and then have a break, and to redevelop." (Ibid., 20)
Interlagos VIII 3x is the apotheosis of Stella's "rebirth." It is a masterwork by an artist who relentlessly moves forward and pushes his own boundaries. Interlagos VIII 3x represents a lush period of Stella's career and magically captures a moment that proved to be a bridge to his later sculptures and architectural design.