Part of Stella's Notched-V series, begun in late 1964, Empress of India comprises four colored chevron-shaped canvases. Stella deliberately avoided dramatic changes in color intensity, because, he reasoned, "when you have four vectored V's moving against each other, if one jumps out, you dislocate the plane and destroy the whole thing entirely." The lines parallel to the canvas edges, painted in metallic browns and ochers, contribute to Stella's perceptual play of pushing parts of the whole forward and back while maintaining an overall equilibrium. Although it is unclear why Stella chose the phrase "Empress of India" for this painting, the grandly scaled work shares the title taken by Queen Victoria when India was incorporated into the British Empire.
MoMA Audio: Collection, 2013
Director, Glenn Lowry: In the late 1950s, Frank Stella began to make abstract pictures comprising parallel lines and patterns using a housepainters brush.
Curator, Leah Dickerman: The line in Frank Stella's paintings is repeated with hand-rendered stripes of house paint. They're all exactly the same size, repeating one after another with a small gap of bare canvas in between. Once the pattern is established they could be generated systematically, so that the structure for the work of art was deductive.
If you think about traditional notions of composition, there are suggestions of depth. Certain colors seem to protrude or recede; certain gestures would seem to give three-dimensional effects. And one thing that Stella's paintings did was deny depth.
Stella talked about wanting to create a picture that would have a strong and immediate visual impact “an imprint,” he called it—so that it was completely and immediately available to the eye. And you would see it all at once and not in component parts.