Expanding outward and contracting inward in a visual cacophony of color, Stella’s Double Mitered Maze is deeply linked to the artist’s Benjamin Moore series. Painted using the same Alykd pigment that the artist had employed to craft the earlier series, the Mitered Maze paintings were borne from an iterative process that expanded on the compositional motifs established by that formative group of paintings. While Stella’s earlier works displayed a remarkable flatness, the addition of diagonal line segments at the corners of each field of paint beginning in 1962-1963 introduced spatial illusionism to Stella’s compositions. The artist’s concentric bands became the eponymous mitered line segments referred to in the title of the present work.
Executed in the first decade of Stella’s prolific career, Double Mitered Maze is an early, exceptional example from this series. The double-format of the present work lends the painting extraordinary optical dynamism and challenges received assumptions of perception; Stella’s ingenious arrangement of color and line draws the eye to the center of the composition and creates a dueling sense of receding and projecting depth. Simultaneously, the regular schematic pattern exemplified by the uniform width of the bands, coupled with Stella’s precise modulation of color and tonal values collapses space together into a single flattened plane.
Furthering this immersive effect, alternating primary and secondary colors – green, orange and purple sections as opposed to red, yellow and blue sections – introduce another element of spatial recession or progression that is intensified by the double panel format. Reflecting on these works, the artist stated: “the reason I used color that way at first, was to fit the new work into the whole thinking of the striped pictures in general. I wanted to use a fairly formalized, programmatic kind of color.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Frank Stella, 1970, p. 76) Indeed, this controlled use of color allowed Stella to continue his conceptual exploration of indexical and mathematical frameworks for painting while infusing his paintings with intoxicating energy and vitality.
Exhibiting a crisp regularity and rigid compositional order, Double Mitered Maze is both disarmingly simple and superlative of an almost incomprehensible illusionism. Known for their exactitude and calculated make-up, Stella’s Mitered Maze paintings are thought of as a critical movement in the artist’s oeuvre. Pointedly, Hyena Stomp, an early work from the group, appears on the cover of Frank Stella: Paintings 1958- 1965, Stella’s catalogue raisonné for early works and a defining text on the artist. Beyond its centrality to Stella’s artistic ethos of the 1960s, the present work, in all of its chromatic exuberance, is also remarkable for its forward-looking integration of not just the past, but also of movements still in their nascence, crafting a link “between the industrial aesthetic of Minimalism and the new color vibrancy of Pop Art.” (Michael Auping in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Frank Stella: A Retrospective, 2015 p. 24) Situated at an integral nexus in the progression of abstraction, the present work brings together the past, present, and future, bridging them into a single iconic composition.
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