Frank Stella was born on May 12, 1936, in Malden, Massachusetts. In 1950 Stella entered the Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, where he studied art history and painting; it was here that he realized that he had no interest in representational painting. Stella continued his studies in history at Princeton University (BA, 1958). At this time he was painting loose, gestural abstractions in the tradition of the New York School. He was already highly regarded by his professors, yet he did not seriously entertain the idea of a career in the arts.
After graduation Stella moved to New York with the intention of staying there to paint for the summer only. When he was not drafted into the army as he had expected, he took up painting seriously. Stella’s art was recognized for its innovations before he was twenty-five.
In his early series, including the Black Paintings (1958–60), Aluminum Paintings (1960), and Copper Paintings (1960–61), Stella cast aside illusionistic space for the physicality of the flat surface and deviated from the traditional rectangular-shaped canvas.
Stella’s Irregular Polygon canvases (1965–67) and Protractor series (1967–71) further extended the concept of the shaped canvas. Stella began his extended engagement with printmaking in the mid-1960s, working first with master printer Kenneth Tyler at Gemini G.E.L. During the following decade, Stella introduced relief into his art, which he came to call “maximalist” painting for its sculptural qualities. Ironically, the paintings that had brought him fame before 1960 had eliminated all such depth. After introducing wood and other materials in the Polish Village series (1970–73), created in high relief, he began to use aluminum as the primary support for his paintings. As the 1970s and 1980s progressed, these became more elaborate and exuberant. Indeed, his earlier Minimalism became baroque, marked by curving forms, DayGlo colors, and scrawled brushstrokes. Similarly, his prints of these decades combined various printmaking and drawing techniques. In 1973, he had a print studio installed in his New York house.
From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, Stella created a large body of work. During this time, the increasingly deep relief of Stella’s paintings gave way to full three-dimensionality, with sculptural forms derived from cones, pillars, French curves, waves, and decorative architectural elements. To create these works, the artist used collages or maquettes that were then enlarged and re-created with the aid of assistants, industrial metal cutters, and digital technologies.
In the 1990s, Stella began making freestanding sculpture for public spaces and developing architectural projects.
Stella’s work was included in several important exhibitions that defined 1960s art, among them the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s The Shaped Canvas (1964–65) and Systemic Painting (1966). His art has been the subject of several retrospectives in the United States, Europe, and Japan. The artist continues to live and work in New York.