Figure 04.09.01
Frank Stella, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II, 1959
Stella's early paintings are examples of hand-mechanical painting processes.

Excerpted from Caroline A. Jones, The Machine in the Studio: Constructing the Postwar American Artist, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 148-9:

[…] the painterly aspects of [Frank Stella’s] Black Paintings (and even their "bottomness") still linked them to earlier evocations of the natural sublime. Not yet the fully technological icons of the Aluminum Paintings to come, they could still allude to tenebrous depths, and oceanic (if regular) expanses. Thus, despite the discipline of Stella’s housepainter’s brushstroke in the Black Paintings, there were still drips that escaped, irregular layers of enamel that built up, erratic widths in the painted bands that allowed certain oscillating "breathing lines" between them, ranging from narrow white interstices to mere whispers of oil-stained canvas. Although almost impossible to convey in reproduction, some aspects of this visual instability can be seen in [Fig. 04.09.01], the second version of The Marriage of Reason and Squalor that Stella painted in November 1959 for the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition. The interstitial breathing lines are soft, the bands’ borders ambiguous. There is a perceptible drift to the right as the configuration "leans" towards the painter’s preferred hand, muting the success of the hardening program at which repainting was aimed. The "black" in the earliest canvases is not pure, not complete in its denial of light; mixed with white in the earliest works, it reads as brown or dull gray, a "no color" according to Stella (a color of earth or darkness-in-the-body, which Richardson describes as "a somewhat brownish cast"). The penetration of the glossy enamel into the unprimed cotton duck is erratic. Some layers of Stella’s dutiful overpainting are soaked into a matte texture of dark canvas; other layers are repelled, as the impervious lacquer began to dry and build into a soft sheen. As one moves laterally in relation to the painting, light is reflected, refracted, and absorbed in varying degrees. William Rubin wrote of "being mesmerized" by the Black Paintings "eerie presence," and indeed, I want to argue that the eerie presence of an other world is what gives these paintings their force and bite. Stella’s executive stance was at curious odds with the painter’s workmanlike facture and black deviance; the readings of these canvases that were authorized by their defenders emphasized a brisk, problem-solving approach, but the paintings kept on signifying otherwise. The complex polyvocality of the Black Paintings […] precisely the marriage of reason and squalor—the union of control and flow, the matings between differences, the pleasures of conjugation—[…] allows the procreation of meaning in the Black Paintings […].

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