Leanne Barrett: Collage and reuse in Frank Stella’s prints with Alice Desmond.

Friday 21 April 2017

Collage and reuse in Frank Stella’s prints with Alice Desmond.

Upon entering the Orde Poynton Gallery and the current exhibitionFrank Stella The Kenneth Tyler Print Collection, one is surrounded by the large prints of Frank Stella. The prints of; lines, shapes, curves, cones, columns, domes, nets, collage, 3D, colours, black and white. 

In front of Stella’s print The Fountain sit more than twenty people ready to listen to the lunchtime talk given by Alice Desmond, Curatorial Assistant of the Kenneth Tyler Collection, International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books at the National Gallery of Australia.  

Desmond explained how Stella artworks developed from a minimalist style print of straight and curved lines to his narrative abstraction works and then to the sculptural refined abstraction pieces like The Fountain.

Star of Persia, 1967
Port aux Basques, 1971
Talladega five I, 1982

Initially Stella was a reluctant print maker but during his 30 year collaboration with Kenneth Tyler and Tyler’s printing workshop Stella was able to develop his prints into a sculptural experiment of multilayered, elaborate compositions.
Stella often interacted with his previous works in the process of creating new works. He would reuse his artworks; cutting them up, printing them in different colours, using new techniques and layering them create new artworks. Stella used copper and aluminium plates, lithograph, etching, relief and college to ensure that the printing didn’t lose the textural qualities that he wanted to convey.

To illustrate Stella’s collage and experimentation the lunchtime talk audience was asked to study his prints and draw, on coloured paper, some of the shapes seen in the artworks. They were then instructed to cut out their drawn shapes and to share these shapes with the people next to them. Once they had around eight shapes they were requested to construct a collage that they could order and reorder like Stella did with his works. This was a wonderful demonstration of Stella’s process of repetition and reuse of design elements.

Stella prints were not just a reuse of previous prints. His imagery was also inspired from a variety of sources.

His narrative abstractions were inspired by children’s stories and folk tales. These prints are not illustrations of the stories rather they show the story’s impact and energy. One example of this are the sculptural dome prints of the Moby Dick Series.

The cabin, Ahab and Starbuck, 1991
Moby Dick Series (domes)

Another source of imagery for Stella were 3D computer nets and lines on the Canadian bank notes which are evident in his work The Fountain, 1992. This work is large, 231.1 x 700.4 cm in size. It was created using three large wood blocks and 104 metal plates that were fitted into the wood blocks. The overall image took three days to print and then Stella would make additional changes to the work. See a short video here about this work's printing process.
The Fountain, 1992

In the exhibition space there is a video showing the complex printing process for Stella’s works, this is more detailed than the one at the above link. After watching the video the audience has a clearer understanding of the arduous and intricate operation behind the creation of these art works; from the steel plate creation to the colour selection and the printing process. The video shows Stella actively tweaking the design and colours until he is satisfied with the composition. The prints are not just a collage of Stella’s ideas but also a collage or collaboration of the Tyler print workshop team. The video reveals how the team breaks down the design template, hand paints each plate that is re-pieced into the wood block and the process of printing the artwork.

The exhibition Frank Stella The Kenneth Tyler Print Collection is a feast for the eyes. It is intricate and colourful. It will be on show until July 2017. A full colour catalogue is available to purchase from the National Gallery of Australia Shop.

To find out more about the Tyler Print Collection go to https://nga.gov.au/Tyler

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