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Known for his minimalist geometric abstraction, Frank Stella’s belief that “What you see is what you see,” when it comes to his work is all too true. The artist rebelled against the passionate brushstrokes and highly psychological aesthetic of many Abstract Expressionists in favour of simple compositions with exuberant colour and precise geometry. 'What you see is what you see;' Stella’s simple words capture the philosophy that has made him one of the most heralded artists in history.


Born in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1936, Frank Stella received a privileged education at the Phillips Academy. Here, he first encountered the abstract oeuvres of Josef Albers and Hans Hoffman, which served as his primary creative inspiration. Following his graduation from Princeton University, Stella settled in New York City in 1958 without a specific plan in mind, in his words: 'I wasn’t thinking of becoming an artist. I just wanted to make things and paint for a while.'

First Works

Stella’s art career began in earnest in 1959, with a series of paintings composed of only black paint on unprimed canvas. These works immediately received positive recognition within the New York art scene. Die Fahne Hoch! (The Raised Banner), a famous example of Stella’s work that invokes the flag and anthem of the Nazi party in Germany, belongs to this series.

A year later, four paintings from this body of work were included in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Sixteen Americans, which propelled Stella towards success, establishing him as a prominent and promising artist, and a pioneer of the Minimalist style. Stella was not yet 25 years old.

Following on from this success, Stella had his first solo exhibition at the prestigious Leo Castelli Gallery.


In 1970, Frank Stella became the youngest artist ever to have a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, which pays testament to his reputation as an artist, even at this early stage. Some of his subsequent solo exhibitions include Frank Stella: Painting into Architecture, at the Met Museum in New York in 2007, Inflated Star and Wood Star, at the Royal Academy in London in 2015, Frank Stella: A Retrospective, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2016 and Frank Stella: Recent Work, showing his sculptural pieces at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York in 2019. Stella’s Minimalist and post-painterly style is cited as an inspiration for generations of important artists and architects such as Sol Lewitt, Carl Andre, and Frank Gehry. He remains one of the most influential artists working today.

Most Famous Works

As his career progressed, Stella introduced a lot of colour into his work, as well as metallic-coloured paints, and canvases of irregular shapes; this experimentation is best exemplified by the Aluminum and Copper series of work in the 1950s and 60s. By the late 60s, however, he had adopted an even brighter, sometimes fluorescent, colour palette for his Protractor series (one of his most famous collections of work), as well as a bold use of full and half circles and other geometric shapes. Harran II (1967) is one of the most well-known pieces from this era, and gets its name from an ancient circular city in the Middle East. 

Throughout the 80s, Stella produced approximately 260 works based on Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. These pieces ranged from large-scale sculptural works to mixed-media paintings and prints. They are some of his best-loved works to date.

In the 1990s, Stella started creating more public artworks, including a large-scale mural for the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, and the piece Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X (1998-2001), which stands in front of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. His sculptural work became more architectural throughout the 90s, and included famous works such as Raft of the Medusa (Part II) (1990).


As well as Josef Albers and Hans Hoffman, who inspired a very young Stella while at the Phillips Academy, Stella was fascinated with artists that broke free of the common artistic trends of the time. He decidedly rejected the then-dominant Abstract Expressionist movement, instead, paying attention to painters such as Barnett Newman and Jasper Johns, who focused primarily on colour and flat surfaces and presented the picture as an object. When he moved to New York after attending Princeton University, he was also influenced by the freedom of the work of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. This enthusiasm for colour, for breaking free from the norm, and for creating bold statement pieces, has followed Stella’s work ever since.

Style & Technique

Stella saw his paintings as objects, and the purpose of painting as creating an object: 'a flat surface with paint on it, nothing more.' This rejection of the idea of painting as representative of a higher meaning also meant a diversion from common painting techniques. Rather than beginning with a compositional sketch, Stella painted completely freehand and often used basic wall paint.

Stella has an interest in many different types of art and has felt free to experiment with each. He collaborated with prominent master printer Kenneth Tyler on a series of innovative, abstract prints achieved through etching, lithograph, and screen printing.

Later in his career, his paintings became somewhat sculptural, dubbed a ‘Maximalist’ style, as he began to include three-dimensional plywood, paper, fibreglass, and other textiles. He believed that sculpture is simply 'a painting cut out and stood up somewhere.' In 1967, Stella produced the set and costume design for Scramble, a dance performance choreographed by Merce Cunningham. Today, Stella also incorporates both computer design and 3D printing into his work.

Life & Times

Stella’s interest in art began with his mother, who was a housewife and artist who spent some time at fashion school and had a love of landscape paintings. Stella married art historian Barbara Rose in 1961 and had two children, Rachel and Michael. In 1978, after his marriage ended in 1969, Stella married paediatrician Harriet McGurk.

In the 1970s, Stella moved to NoHo in Manhattan, and then moved again to Greenwich Village in 2015. His studio still resides in Rock Tavern.

In more recent years, Stella has established himself as a strong advocate for tightening copyright protection for artists. In 2008, Stella contributed to an Op-Ed for The Art Newspaper to criticise the U.S. Orphan Works law, which proposed to remove the penalty for copyright infringement if the creator of a work cannot be found. A year later, Stella was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama, and in 2011, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture.

On the Market

Stella’s partnership with Dominique Lévy and Marianne Boesky sees his work exhibited and sold across the globe, with countless collectors still clamouring for an original piece. The record sale for a Frank Stella piece at auction was set in May 2019 at Christie’s New York, when Point of Pines sold for $28 million USD. The increasing value of his work is best exemplified by his 1977 piece Scramble: Ascending Spectrum/ Ascending Green Values, which sold for $1.9 million USD in 2006, and then £2.4 million in London in April 2021. Stella continues to be a valuable and sensible investment for art collectors; and, as a result, his work features in many renowned private collections worldwide.