Frank Stella’s Circuits series 1982–84 represents a dramatic shift in Stella’s attitude toward printmaking. While working on a series of sculptural ‘relief paintings’ (painted configurations of laser-cut metal shapes), also titled ‘Circuits’, the idea came to him that the remnants from his sculptural work could be rolled with ink and used for relief printing. Up until this point, he had taken to printmaking rather reluctantly and only to refigure his earlier paintings.

Frank Stella views 'Mosport' from his 'Circuits' series of relief paintings (in progress) on the wall of his studio, Bridgeport Connecticut, June 1982
Frank Stella views ‘Mosport’ from his ‘Circuits’ series of relief paintings (in progress) on the wall of his studio, Bridgeport Connecticut, June 1982. Photo: Kenneth Tyler. National Gallery of Australia, Gift of Kenneth Tyler 2002

Stella noticed that the outlines of the different shapes cut from sheet metal had been incised deep into the plywood backing-boards and was struck by the richly layered network of lines and curved shapes traced into the wood—both series are named for the way the shapes in the works reference the curvature of speedways. After this epiphany, it was his print practice that informed his work in other media, with his ambitious and inventive projects pushing printmaking beyond its boundaries.

Assisted by master printer Kenneth Tyler, Stella experimented wildly on the printed series and in tandem with his developing relief paintings. By layering woodblocks and collaging them with etched metal plates, then printing onto specially crafted, hand-dyed sheets of oversize paper, the results were groundbreaking for their complexity, scale and bold colour. As Stella reflected in a 1995 lecture, later published in Frank Stella at Tyler Graphics, the Circuits series revolutionised his art making, triggering ‘a tremendous feeling of freedom … that I didn’t have to make prints after the paintings’.

The NGA holds the most comprehensive collection of Stella’s innovations in print, with over 1100 of his prints, experimental proofs and matrices, including more than 120 related to the Circuits series. Some of these treasures are on display now in Frank Stella: the Kenneth Tyler print collection.


Alice Desmond, Curatorial Assistant, Kenneth Tyler Collection

 First published in Artonview no 88 | Summer 2016-17, the NGA’s quarterly magazine. To subscribe, become a member at nga.gov.au/members.