I used to quite like Frank Stella's work because he used the tools of our trade: protractors, compasses and by the mid-1980s, french curves and something all the notes about Stella call railway curves. When I was teaching in Halifax in the mid 1980s I bought a set of ship curves, it being a ship-building sort of place. One was about three feet long. I was working on an architecture that would result if one did all the drawings using these curves: flat, gentle sweeps where even the intersections gave a slightly odd, open angle.
I saw Stella's Pequod series in New York, somewhere; all the pieces of a drawing that normally indicate some sort of coded ground plane, as in a site plan, were lifted off the ground and floated in a complex set of layers. These layers, which had shapes recognisably from french curves, were painted over with gaudy pattern. These pieces cast wonderful shadows: another kind of drawing. They were enchanting.
Thinking about these works and the legacy of the abstract expressionists of New York given that Frankenthaler and Chamberlain both died last week, and looking up the Pequod series (I had forgotten all the Moby-Dick chapter heading names: Pequod meets the Bachelor, Pequod meets the Virgin, and so on), I found this description: 'In this and other ways, they tackle the issue of narrative, visual metaphor and subject matter more directly than before.' This was written in 1989, and god knows I was keen on narrative and textual matters then too, but looking at the work now, seeing everything as narrative and metaphor does the physicality of this work a disservice. Pequod meets the Bachelor is a nice reference to an American classic about obsession and is perhaps a metaphor for the artist in an obvious sort of way, but it isn't inherent in the work. The work has a physical presence quite independent of the haze of words around it.
Here he is in 1972, very articulate and 34 years old. At one point he says he became interested in aluminum paint as it was fairly repellant, all the action is on the surface. Surface was the issue, not metaphor.