Joseph Stella immigrated to New York City in 1896. The following year he enrolled at the Art Students League and then went to the New York School of Design from 1898-00. He later studied in Florence. Stella's early illustrations were Rembrantesque in technique and attitude and they appeared in Century and Everybody's magazines. From 1902 to 1908 Stella worked on a series of paintings based on Pittsburgh steel workers that were published in Survey Graphic. Stella was best known, however, for his paintings that were influenced by Futurist and Symbolist Movements. He produced a dynamic painting of the Brooklyn Bridge and wrote that it was "a shrine containing all efforts of a new civilization in America".
Stella liked to explore themes of mystical and symbolic subjects in commonplace. He also worked in silverpoint and watercolors, capturing plants, leaves, shells and feathers. Stella participated in the 1913 Armory Show, exhibiting "Battle of Lights, Coney Island" (1913), clearly influenced by the Italian Futurist Severini, with abstract overlying and overcrowding detail and color, depicting tumult and vitality of the seaside resort. Stella was obsessed with noise, and light of the urban environment. In the early 1920s, Stella began a series of 30 collages with discarded objects and cardboard, representing the detritus of human existence.