While Stella executed the Mitered Maze paintings in both grayscale and color, the neutralized black-white-gray scheme of the present work is widely regarded as the most successful embodiment of the series. As William Rubin observed: “The power of the governing pattern was such that it held the pictures together. It is not surprising that the color pictures were less successful than those in black, white, and gray, for the color system did not lock into the governing pattern as the value progression did.” (William Rubin, Frank Stella, New York, 1970, p. 78) Rubin suggests that Stella’s colored mazes appear inorganic because color, unlike value, cannot be organized easily along a quantitative metric. While the various interrelationships between arbitrary bands of color were not conducive to the computed logic of the maze, through the grayscale format such, nuance was perfectly poised to articulate Stella’s sequential progression of value within the numerical design of the grid. Cinema de Pepsi Sketch I is therefore a triumphant solution to the dialectic of problem solving through which Stella approached the Mitered Maze works, prompting Rubin to comment: “The steplike succession of gray values in these pictures carried with it, for the first time in Stella’s work, an implication of recessional space which relates to his speculations regarding sculpture. The basic sequence suggested a kind of ziggurat or bellows, and the larger, multiple sequence pictures implied a more complex in-and-out movement of the space.” (Ibid, p. 76)
Stunningly beautiful in its searing sharpness, Cinema de Pepsi Sketch I captures Stella’s quintessential methodical spirit. The crisp regularity and rigid symmetry of the painting’s configuration maintains direct simplicity and absolute clarity, harnessing a potent immediacy that articulates the relationship of the two-dimensional picture plane to its three-dimensional support. While de-emphasizing the painterly gesture archetypal of the Abstract Expressionist in favor of a flat, rectilinear geometric sameness, the edges of each line within the square betray precise regularity, revealing the hand-painted nature of Stella’s ruled lines akin to the brushy outlines of Barnett Newman’s zips. Whereas the abstraction of his action painter antecedents embraced an impassioned immediacy, Stella’s painting is cool, calculated, and mathematical. The absence of color in Cinema de Pepsi Sketch I is emblematic of this approach, exemplifying Stella’s desire to simplify and reduce color and form to its most essential clarity. Opposite to the improvisational drama of Abstract Expressionism theater, Stella turned to diagrammed, regulated patterns, a level of standardization that recalled his roots as a house-painter. During his first six months in New York, in 1958, Stella had supported himself primarily by painting apartments; this experience remained a core element of his practice, as he decided to employ the two most readily available commercial cans of house paint (white and black) along with two secondary tones of gray in the present work. Through the combination of grayscale and the predetermined sequential pattern of the maze, Cinema de Pepsi Sketch I effectively exudes the rapturous synergy between mathematical purity and optical complexity. Flung into torrential motion, the present work establishes the superlative energy of Stella’s newfound sense of spatial illusionism within a dynamic composition, as witnessed here in the rising and falling labyrinth of the exceptional Cinema de Pepsi Sketch I.
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