About The Artist
Throughout a career spanning over six decades, Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011) created a dramatic body of highly expressive abstract painting, unmatched in intensity and lyricism. Trained at Bennington College in Vermont, Frankenthaler first encountered the New York art world in 1950 through her relationship with the renowned art critic, Clement Greenberg. Influenced by Abstract Expressionism, and Jackson Pollock’s action paintings in particular, Frankenthaler began her own experiments with the medium, laying canvases on the floor before applying paint. She developed her famous ‘soak stain’ technique, in which she applied paint thinned out with turpentine directly to raw, unprimed canvas. This created a uniquely luminous effect in which the surface of the canvas and the paint merged, appearing to become one entity. Through this technique Frankenthaler emphasized the painting’s flat surface of the canvas; her methods proved influential among her contemporaries including Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland and led to her association with Color Field painting.
Frankenthaler became renowned for her atmospheric work, which rejected the constraints of modernism’s monochromatic grid to create a space of boundless expression, excessive and sublime in equal measure. Frankenthaler was often inspired by encounters with nature, referencing landscapes through rich color and dynamic brushstrokes. As the 1960s and ‘70s dawned, so too did pop art, performance art and other experimental forms. While Frankenthaler remained a committed abstract painter, she was not immune to these dramatic changes in artistic practice, and her lectures from this time asserted that the act of painting would maintain its relevance. The forms of her work grew noticeably hard-edged as she began to work with acrylic paint instead of oils. Her works from this time reveal the artist’s signature balance of control and spontaneity. As Frankenthaler said, “A really good picture looks as if it's happened at once… For my own work, when a picture looks labored and overworked… that has not got to do with beautiful art to me. And I usually throw these out, though I think very often it takes ten of those over-labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart.” She continued to employ her stain effect, but acrylic provided her with greater control over her effects as it was quicker to dry than oil paint. This sharp shift attests to Frankenthaler’s continued experimentation with forms and materials, long into the latter stages of her career.
Frankenthaler’s reputation was cemented by her retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1969. Her work is represented in many esteemed collections including Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Dreishpoon, Douglas, Giving Up One’s Mark: Helen Frankenthaler in the 1960s and 1970s. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 2014. 4. Rose, Barbara, Frankenthaler, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1975. 85