Frank Stella
Doctor of Humane Letters

For 50 years, Frank Stella has been an innovator in American abstract art, challenging our very notions of what painting is and inspiring generations of new artists.

Frank Stella sculpture, “Of Whales in Paint, in Teeth, &c.” 1990
Of Whales in Paint, in Teeth, &c.
1990, Acrylic on aluminum.
Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Gift of Steven M. Jacobson (Class of 1953).
See larger photo.

Born in Malden, Mass., in 1936 and educated at Princeton University, Stella moved to Manhattan and began his career in the late 1950s. His art—influenced by that of Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns and Barnett Newman, among others—earned him renown, as well as a place in many important exhibitions, at an early age; by the time he was 35, New York’s Museum of Modern Art had already presented a retrospective of his work.

Over time, Stella’s art has literally taken on more and more depth and dimension: He began as a painter, famously defining a painting as “a flat surface with paint on it—nothing more.” In the 1960s and ’70s, he moved into printmaking and relief, as well as costume design and set design. By the 1980s and ’90s, he was designing massive sculptures, murals and architectural projects. Among his best-known works are the Black Paintings; the Irregular Polygon and Eccentric Polygon series; the Protractor Series; and public installations in Toronto, Miami and Washington, D.C. Harvard invited the artist to deliver the 1984 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, six talks about the future of the abstract movement, which were published two years later.

Stella remains active in the New York art scene and has become a defender of the rights of his fellow artists. Last year, along with Artists Rights Society President Theodore Feder, Stella spoke out against a proposed U.S. Orphan Works Law, which would remove penalties for certain copyright infringements.

Hear Stella’s talk, “Obeying Verspohl,” on our audio page, Conversations with Honored Guests.