Joseph Stella is an elusive figure in the history of American art. His unpredictable, almost capricious nature was shaped by idiosyncratic cultures of East and West. His art is like his personality––contradictory, intense, and ambiguous. It is an immense kaleidoscope, with everything in it fantastic, hyperbolic, joyful. He was consumed by turbulent enthusiasm and joyous visions, but he was saddened by everyday routine, and he searched all his life for “peace, serenity, and transcendence of the mundane, the superficial and the ephemeral.”1 Taking a particular interest in Futurism, he developed a remarkable skill for drawing, and his work contrasted sharply with the style of his contemporaries. The intensity of his images, both in color and design, is sometimes interpreted as a reflection of his consciousness, as the pictures draw a fine line between bliss and sorrow.
Joseph Stella was born Giuseppe Michele Stella on June 13, 1877, to Michele and Vincenza Cerone in Muro Lucano, a mountain village not far from Naples, Italy. He was the fourth of five brothers and was called “Beppino,” a family nickname, until his thirties. In 1896, he joined his brother Antonio, a doctor who two years earlier set up his medical practice in lower Manhattan’s Little Italy, in New York City. Though Stella initially studied medicine and pharmacology, his passion was art. It was his “hopeless love,” the “eternal fountain of heavenly joy” which existed as “a secret delight” designed for “the consummate pleasures of his sense.”2 After a year of medical school, he decided to devote himself to his true calling.
| HILLS OF MURO LUCANO, 1935|
| In the Jungle, 1940|