Tribute to a Racer

Frank Stella's 'Polar Co-Ordinates for Ronnie Peterson'

An unabashed fan of car racing, Frank Stella created a special series of prints to honor his friend, the Swedish race car driver Ronnie Peterson, who died in a racing accident at the 1978 Italian Grand Prix. Created in the immediate aftermath of Peterson's untimely death, the series is comprised of eight silkscreen and offset lithograph prints that echo the geometric composition of Stella's Flin-Flon and Saskatoon painting series from a decade earlier. In 1979, Stella's print series for Peterson inspired another fitting tribute to the racer: a hand-painted BMW for another friend of Stella's, racing driver Peter Gregg. A 1982 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, was also named for the eight works. MoMA's director of Prints & Illustrated Books Riva Castleman noted of the series "the tendency in a few of the prints to unbalance or distort the dominant symmetry." 

No art is any good unless you can feel how it's put together. By and large it's the eye, the hand and if it's any good, you feel the body. Most of the best stuff seems to be a complete gesture, the totality of the artist's body; you can really lean on it.

Frank Stella

Frank Stella

Frank Stella is a key figure in postwar American modernism. Born in 1936 in a suburb of Boston, he attended the Phillips Academy where he was introduced to the work of Josef Albers and Hans Hoffman. In 1958, after graduating from Princeton with a degree in history, he moved to New York and worked as a house painter without intent to become an artist–his interest was solely in creation.

Shortly thereafter, while operating from a rented studio shared with artist Carl Andre, Stella was introduced to and later represented by dealer Leo Castelli. Inspired by the Abstract Expressionist movement, but in a departure from the period, he produced the Black Paintings series. His work emphasized a two-dimensional, flat application of monochromatic paint. At age 25, he exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and his work during this time gave way to the Minimalist movement that followed.

In the 1960s, Stella began to work in unique materials such as aluminum and copper paint and he moved away from the traditional square canvas. He experimented with the optical effect of arranging bold colors and geometric forms. Characteristic of the artist is his nonrepresentational painting, no allusion to a narrative or symbolism within the content of his work. In 1970, he became the youngest artist to receive a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Stella’s contributions to modern art are celebrated in the collections of major institutions such as Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Tate Gallery in London, among others. He lives and works in New York.

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