Who ART You? 28

What I admire about the work of Helen Frankenthaler, an American painter and printmaker was her experimentation with paint techniques and different methods to create art. She recognized that in order to grow as an artist she needed to constantly challenge herself.

Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler

Who ART You?

From Vanity Fair and Artnet
Helen Frankenthaler's breakthrough "stain" painting Mountains and Sea from 1952 played a pivotal role in the transition from the grandiose gesture of Abstract Expressionism to the flat, meditative forms of Color Field painting. In that painting she used a pastel blend of oil paint and charcoal on unprimed canvas. “One really beautiful wrist motion, that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it,” she once said of her practice. “It looks as if it were born in a minute.

First and foremost a colorist, Frankenthaler once poured cans of paint onto raw canvas, allowing the material to soak into the support, forming amorphous shapes. As a woman of Abstract Expressionism, Frankenthaler broke through the masculine-dominated movement and let her own unique artistic voice be heard.

Born on December 12, 1928 in New York, NY, she studied with Rufino Tamayo at the Dalton School and Paul Feeley at Bennington College.

During the 1950s, Frankenthaler’s work attracted attention from the influential art critic Clement Greenberg, leading to several exhibitions, including a solo show at the Jewish Museum in 1960. Following her marriage to the painter Robert Motherwell that same year, Frankenthaler continued to push her experimentation painting through using acrylics on unprimed canvas.

From wikipedia:
As an active painter for nearly six decades, Frankenthaler went through a variety of phases and stylistic shifts. Initially associated with abstract expressionism because of her focus on forms latent in nature, Frankenthaler is identified with the use of fluid shapes, abstract masses, and lyrical gestures. She made use of large formats on which she painted, generally, simplified abstract compositions. Her style is notable in its emphasis on spontaneity, as Frankenthaler herself stated, "A really good picture looks as if it's happened at once." 

Frankenthaler's official artistic career was launched in 1952 with the exhibition of Mountains and Sea. Throughout the 1950s, her works tended to be centered compositions, meaning the majority of the pictorial incident took place in the middle of the canvas itself, while the edges were of little consequence to the compositional whole. In 1957, Frankenthaler began to experiment with linear shapes and more organic, sun-like, rounded forms in her works. In the 1960s, her style shifted towards the exploration of symmetrical paintings, as she began to place strips of colors near the edges of her paintings, thus involving the edges as a part of the compositional whole. With this shift in composition came a general simplification of Frankenthaler's style. She began to make use of single stains and blots of solid color against white backgrounds, often in the form of geometric shapes  Beginning in 1963, Frankenthaler began to use acrylic paints rather than oil paints because they allowed for both opacity and sharpness when put on the canvas. By the 1970s, she had done away with the soak stain technique entirely, preferring thicker paint that allowed her to employ bright colors almost reminiscent of Fauvism. Throughout the 1970s, Frankenthaler explored the joining of areas of the canvas through the use of modulated hues, and experimented with large, abstract forms. Her work in the 1980s was characterized as much calmer, with its use of muted colors and relaxed brushwork.

In 1960 the term Color Field painting was used to describe the work of Frankenthaler. In general, this term refers to the application of large areas, or fields, of a single color to the canvas. This style was characterized by the use of hues that were similar in tone or intensity, as well as large formats and simplified compositions, all of which are qualities descriptive of Frankenthaler's work from the 1960s onward. The Color Field artists set themselves apart from the Abstract Expressionists because they eliminated the emotional, mythic or the religious content and the highly personal and gestural and painterly application.

Frankenthaler often painted onto unprimed canvas with oil paints that she heavily diluted with turpentine, a technique that she named "soak stain." This allowed for the colors to soak directly into the canvas, creating a liquefied, translucent effect that strongly resembled watercolor. Soak stain was also said to be the ultimate fusing of image and canvas, drawing attention to the flatness of the painting itself. The major disadvantage of this method, however, is that the oil in the paints will eventually cause the canvas to discolor and rot away.The technique was adopted by other artists, notably Morris Louis (1912–1962), and Kenneth Noland (1924–2010), and launched the second generation of the Color Field school of painting. Frankenthaler often worked by laying her canvas out on the floor, a technique inspired by Jackson Pollock.

Frankenthaler preferred to paint in privacy. If assistants were present she preferred them to be inconspicuous when not needed.

The artist died on December 27, 2011 in Darien, CT.

Today, Frankenthaler’s works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others.

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