Frank Stella Swan Engravings

Kenneth Tyler and Frank Stella cutting etched magnesium plates for the Swan Engravings series
Kenneth Tyler and Frank Stella cutting etched magnesium plates for the Swan Engravings series | Tyler Graphics Ltd., Bedford Village, New York, 1981 | Photo: Lindsay Green

The series of twenty-five prints published over 3 years  was Stella’s most ambitious project to date, related to his earlier Circuits series.  The name of the series comes from the Swan Engraving Company in Connecticut where Stella had shapes cut for his Circuit works. The scraps of these shapes, as well as templates for doily patterns which Swan Engravings Company produced were incorporated into the series, creating intricate graphic patterns. The prints were made by collaging the scraps and templates together on a plywood backing, then inking them and printing, producing intaglio and relief prints.  Such a method of assembling the plate from various components was used here for the first time by Stella, exemplifying the constant innovation in his work from series to series.

Workshop staff inking and wiping the plate for Frank Stella’s ‘Swan engraving square IV’, Tyler Graphics Ltd
Workshop staff inking and wiping the plate for Frank Stella’s ‘Swan engraving square IV’, Tyler Graphics Ltd | Photo: Kenneth Tyler

 

The series stands out among Stella’s other series of the same time, such as the Shards Series and the Had Gadya Series, due to the prominent use of black  in the first nine works and the relatively monochromatic palette of the other 16 pieces. Additionally, due to the uneven surface of the assembled plates, the printing process produced an embossed effect on the paper, resulting in etchings that, while borrowed many elements from Stella’s previous works, offer something completely different and undeniably beautiful.

 

Swan Engravings Series, 1982-1985

The first nine works of the series are printed exclusively in black, each a gorgeous baroque composition that takes full advantage of its lack of color.

Frank Stella Swan Engraving I, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving I, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving II, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving II, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving III, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving III, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving IV, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving IV, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving V, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Square I [Swan Engraving V], 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving VI, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving VI, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving VII, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving VII, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving VII, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving VII, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving IX, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving IX, 1982 from the Swan Engravings Series

The 10th  piece of the series contains all the lyrical monochromatic movement of the first nine, but with the addition of a shocking blue border and swift blue forms placed at the center of the piece.

Frank Stella Swan Engraving Blue, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Blue, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series

 

 

The next twelve pieces of the series are presented in an eye-catching circular format, the first 5 and the last 7 made up of the same collaged forms but printed in different colors.

Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle I, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle I, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle I, State I 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle I, State I 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle I, State II 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle I, State II 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle I, State III 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle I, State III 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle I, State IV ,1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle I, State IV ,1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle I, State V ,1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle I, State V ,1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle II ,1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle II, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle II, State I ,1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle II, State I, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle II, State II, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle II, State II, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle II, State III, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle II, State III, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle II, State IV, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle II, State IV, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle II, State V, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Circle II, State V, 1983 from the Swan Engravings Series

 

The next two works return to the large rectangular format, with the addition of a border that contains the collaged pieces and gives the works a wonderful balance of baroque business and geometric neatness.

Frank Stella Swan Engraving Framed I, 1985 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Framed I, 1985 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Framed II, 1985 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Framed II, 1985 from the Swan Engravings Series

The last piece of the series possesses a remarkable tranquility. Dominated by a smoothly curving form that stretched diagonally across the piece, the composition is beautifully organized, with the bright blue shapes sitting at the foreground, while a the dark green-black recedes into the background, giving the work immense depth.

Frank Stella Swan Engraving Blue, Green, Grey, 1985 from the Swan Engravings Series
Frank Stella Swan Engraving Blue, Green, Grey, 1985 from the Swan Engravings Series

 

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