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Stella, Joseph

b. 1877, Muro Lucano, Italy; d. 1946, New York, USA

Smoke Stacks, c. 1935 Oil on canvas, 104.1 x 88.9 cm Collection: Indiana State University 

Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration; Commissioned through the New Deal art projects; On deposit at Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana.

In Smoke Stacks, Joseph Stella approached the rigid, backlit forms of a coal-powered factory with the same veneration he brought to the cityscape of his adoptive home, New York, and in particular to his later renditions of the Brooklyn Bridge (see Jaffe 1970:57f.). Here, the kaleidoscopic frenzy of colours of his earlier, Futurist-inspired paintings was tempered by his experiences producing illustrations for the Pittsburgh Survey, a report on the working conditions of American steel workers (see May 1991). The diffuse edges of the smoke rising ominously from the Smoke Stacks lend an almost mystical aura to the hard outlines of the factory below, while the vibrant hues of red and yellow radiating into the deep blue sky presage the dangerous beauty of the industrial chemical disaster in Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise: “Ever since the airborne toxic event, the sunsets had become almost unbearably beautiful. Not that there was a measurable connection. If the special character of Nyodene Derivative (added to the everyday drift of effluents, pollutants, contaminants and deliriants) had caused this aesthetic leap from already brilliant sunsets to broad towering ruddled visionary skyscapes, tinged with dread, no one had been able to prove it” (1999: 162). CMF