Perfume Bottle Nudes Inspire Stella’s Process: Interview

Wearing an old brown fedora, a shirt decorated with a marlin and rumpled khakis, Frank Stella, 76, walks through his show at the FreedmanArt Gallery on New York’s Upper East Side.

On view is a selection of his recent sculptures. Abstract and candy colored, with intricate frames suspended on metal armature, they were created through a process called rapid prototyping.

Smaller pieces, a collection of geometric forms, sit on bases that Stella made himself. The show runs through Sept. 27.

Tarmy: How did you make these sculptures?

Stella: It’s a very straightforward system. Imagine you have an MRI or a CT scan. That information comes in slices, in lines. The basic premise of rapid prototyping is that you have a bed -- either a powder or a liquid. And above it is a laser. And the laser draws a line on either the powder or the liquid and it catalyzes it. It becomes hard, you put more on the top, and you build it layer by layer. It’s a slightly laborious process, but it’s quite accurate.

Tarmy: How is this process applied in the non-art world?

Blue Perfume

Stella: Well, I first came across it at least 20 years ago. They were using it for making naked girls on the top of Gaultier perfume bottles -- sort of entwined and complicated. They wanted something that they could reproduce and get a fairly accurate degree of carving, and that’s how it first started out commercially. So it’s from the perfume industry that we inherited this technology.

Tarmy: And you spray paint them?

Stella: Some I spray myself, I paint on a little bit, but you pretty much have to spray-paint it, because your hand won’t fit in there. As much as the artist’s hand is valued, if you can’t get it in there... well. We won’t dwell on that.

Tarmy: And where does all of this take place?

Stella: My studio is in Newburgh, New York.

Tarmy: Do you have favorites among these works?

Stella: You know, I really don’t, because each one was a different problem. So I like it for the problem it solved.

Tarmy: Were there any problems that you couldn’t solve?

Delicate Work

Stella: Well, I haven’t been able to make them stronger. I’d like to be able to throw them around I guess, like a Chamberlain. So the fragility is kind of annoying.

Tarmy: They haven’t been able to improve the material’s durability over the years?

Stella: Development over the last five or six years has been painfully slow. It’s a problem that you would believe the massive chemical industry could solve, but they haven’t been able to make a plastic that will allow itself to be refined to this degree.

Tarmy: You mention Chamberlain, are there any other artistic influences that you see in your work?

Stella: Kandinsky would be the other obvious point of reference.

Tarmy: Have you always kept back some of your work for your own collection?

Stella: I have a little by default, not so much. Although, I used to have a lot, and then somehow over the years it kind of vanishes, somehow. I don’t know, it goes here and there. So naturally I have more new work than I have from the ’60s.

New Yorker

Tarmy: And you live here in New York?

Stella: Yeah, I’ve lived here since 1958. I’ve moved around, but the place I live in now I moved into in ’66 or ‘67.

Tarmy: I’m sure you’ve seen New York go through some astonishing changes.

Stella: I know, people tell me that. It doesn’t seem that different to me, I have to say. When I moved to West Broadway and had a studio there, maybe in ’59, well-- it’s different now and everything, but it’s just not that different. West Broadway, in spite of the fancy restaurants and the boutiques and everything, is still a fairly crummy place.

Tarmy: It’s certainly more expensive than it was.

Stella: Right, but you know, if you had any sense of purpose or class you wouldn’t really want to live there.

FreedmanArt is at 25 E. 73rd St. Information: +1-212-249-2040;

(James Tarmy writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

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