In the present work, an otherwise perfectly square canvas is interrupted by two small square notches in the top right and bottom left corners, the shape of which introduces a compositional pattern that is then replicated across the length of the canvas. Stella's subtle yet revolutionary intervention into the sanctity of the traditional quadrilateral canvas shape lends the work a vehemently sculptural quality - the notches in opposite corners emphasize the physicality of the painting's support, casting shadows that assert the painting's presence on the wall. Juxtaposed across the bisecting diagonal axis of Kingsbury Run, alternating bands of paint reverberate across the square canvas.
The shaped canvases that Stella introduced in the Aluminum Paintings entirely re-envisioned and redefined the existing parameters of figure-ground relationship, disrupting the sanctity of the rectangular canvas and enabling his paintings to take on a new level of objecthood. The twelve paintings that comprise the Aluminum Paintings adhere to eight distinct compositional templates, all of which deviate slightly from the rectangular canvas shape. After creating the first three works in this series, Stella went on to repaint them with a darker aluminum paint in a second version, and then went on to execute a third and smaller version of only one painting in the suite, which is the present work. The third iteration of the Kingsbury Run template, now on a much more condensed and intimate scale, the present work beautifully reveals the intellectual rigor and methodical, premeditated approach that Stella brings to his very best works.
In 1958, Stella graduated from Princeton University, where he had studied under the tutelage of William Seitz, the influential Museum of Modern Art curator who also wrote the earliest major text on Abstract Expressionism. Shortly after arriving to New York, where he first worked as a house painter, Stella saw Jasper Johns’ paintings at his first solo exhibition with Leo Castelli, and the repetition and intervals exhibited in his Flag and Target paintings inspired Stella to turn away from the improvisational drama of Abstract Expressionism and embrace a pure, reduced, calculated abstraction. Eager to find a way of painting that expelled the overwhelming subjectivity and sensitivity of the Abstract Expressionists that dominated the discourse of the era and excited by the explicit directness and “objectness” of Johns’ paintings, Stella eradicated improvisation and abandoned any sense of allusion or allegory. Meanwhile, the stark industrial quality of monochromatic metallic paint that characterize Stella's Aluminum Paintings evokes the radical candor of Minimalist sculptors who were gaining prominence in New York at that time—such as Donald Judd's 'Specific Objects.' Using the house painter’s technique and tools provided a method of paint application that echoed the predetermined grid format, driving any illusionistic space or personal heroicism out of the painting in an effort to counter the rhetoric surrounding Abstract Expressionism. That same year at the age of just twenty-three, Stella created his revolutionary Black Paintings, which which were chosen for inclusion in Dorothy Miller’s famous Sixteen Americans exhibition at MoMA in 1959. The Aluminum Paintings immediately followed the Black Paintings and were the subject of Stella’s first solo exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, a well-received exhibition that established his legitimacy in the New York art scene.
The compelling intensity of Johns’ pictures, in addition to his strict adherence to the pre-ordained format of the subjects he chose—Numbers, Targets, and Flags—present a clear link to Stella’s reverence for the flat pictorial field and stressing of the painterly surface. Just as Johns’ Flag remains a flag rather than an image of a flag, Stella’s Kingsbury Run presents paint on canvas: a frank and brutally factual representation of its own medium and making.
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