Frank Stella
Zambezi, 1959

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Artist name
Frank Stella
Date created
enamel on canvas
90 3/4 in. × 78 3/4 in. (230.51 cm × 200.03 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson
© Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Permanent URL
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

Audio Stories

How Stella plays with our eyes

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American painter Frank Stella burst onto the scene in the New York art world of the late 1950s with paintings like this one: flat, black, self-contained. Curator Gary Garrels. 



If you actually stop and just begin to stare at the painting, it begins to take on a lot of optical illusion. The more you look at it, it does become very alive. The lines have a lot of fluctuation, a lot of variation. You get retinal after-images. So in fact, this painting, or this series of paintings, are kind of the beginning of what became Op Art in the sixties. So it also led the way for other artists forward.  


At the time Stella made this painting, he was only twenty-three. He was an artist with ambition and—and a maverick who wanted to figure out how to go forward.  



To better understand the radicalism of this spare, symmetrically striped work, it helps to know what Stella was leaving behind. 



Stella really was the first painter to turn his back absolutely on the Abstract Expressionists. To get away from the metaphysical and the psychological, and just look at this thing in front of you and let your eyes do the work. 



Stella is famous for later saying What you see is what you see. And the further he got into his career, the more he indeed gave his viewers to see, in an amazing proliferation of shapes and colors. But in this, his first statement as a young artist, he laid his philosophy on the line—in black and white. 

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Other Works by Frank Stella

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