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Artists Helen Frankenthaler
Helen Frankenthaler Photo

Helen Frankenthaler

American Painter

Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting

Born: December 12, 1928 - New York, New York

Died: December 27, 2011 - Darien, Connecticut

Helen Frankenthaler Timeline

Quotes

"A really good picture looks as if it's happened once. It's an immediate image."
Helen Frankenthaler
"Being the person I was and am, exposed to the things I have been exposed to, I could only make my painting with the methods - and with the wrist - I have."
Helen Frankenthaler
"Sometimes I think the worst thing is the current 'worldliness' of the whole [art] scene. It is the most deceptive, corrupting, transient thing, full of kicks and fun but so little to do with what it's all really about... It has to do with our time, a desperate pact about the power of immediate-in-ness. But I feel less and less concerned with this as an issue. So what? No threat."
Helen Frankenthaler
"There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about."
Helen Frankenthaler
"Whatever the medium, there is the difficult, challenge, fascination and often productive clumsiness of learning a new method: the wonderful puzzles and problems of translating new materials."
Helen Frankenthaler
"Every so often every artist feels, 'I'll never paint again. The muse has gone out the window.' In 1985, I hardly painted at all for three months, and it was agonizing. I looked at reproductions. I stared at Matisse. I stared at the Old Masters. I stared at the Quattrocento. And I thought to myself - Don't push it! If you try too hard to get at something, you almost push it away."
Helen Frankenthaler
"The landscapes were in my arms as I did it."
Helen Frankenthaler

"What concerns me when I work, is not whether the picture is a landscape, or whether it's pastoral, or whether somebody will see a sunset in it. What concerns me is - did I make a beautiful picture?"

Helen Frankenthaler Signature

Synopsis

Helen Frankenthaler was among the most influential artists of the mid-20th century. Introduced early in her career to major artists such as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline (and Robert Motherwell, whom she later married), Frankenthaler was influenced by Abstract Expressionist painting practices, but developed her own distinct approach to the style. She invented the "soak-stain" technique, in which she poured turpentine-thinned paint onto canvas, producing luminous color washes that appeared to merge with the canvas and deny any hint of three-dimensional illusionism. Her breakthrough gave rise to the movement promoted by the influential art critic Clement Greenberg as the "next big thing" in American art: Color Field Painting, marked by airy compositions that celebrated the joys of pure color and gave an entirely new look and feel to the surface of the canvas. Later in her career, Frankenthaler turned her attention to other artistic media, most notably woodcuts, in which she achieved the quality of painting, in some cases replicating the effects of her soak-stain process.

Key Ideas

While creating Mountains and Sea (1952), Frankenthaler arrived at her innovative variant of Jackson Pollock's pouring technique, in which she likewise poured paints onto enormous canvases placed on the floor. But while Pollock used enamel paints, which remain on the surface of the canvas when dried, Frankenthaler poured oil paints that she had thinned with turpentine that then soaked into the fabric of the canvas. Frankenthaler's soak-stain process created luminescent, misty compositions dominated by large areas of color that seemed to have emerged onto the canvas naturally and organically.
Frankenthaler's work influenced Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, who recognized works like Mountains and Sea as a mode of abstract painting that moved beyond Pollock's textured, psychologically fraught canvases to compositions almost entirely based on color. On the basis of the soak-stain technique and the color wash, Frankenthaler, Louis, and Noland went on to develop Color Field Painting. In such works, the entire space of the picture is conceived as a "field" that appears to spread beyond the edges of the canvas; figure and ground became one and the same, and three-dimensional illusionism is completely jettisoned.
In another major departure from first-generation Abstract Expressionism, Frankenthaler was an abstract artist for whom the natural landscape - rather than the existential confrontation with the canvas or search for the sublime - served as the major focus and inspiration. Her pared-down forms were often informed by her impressions of nature, be they the arid terrain of the American Southwest; a mulberry tree seen in upstate New York; or the Long Island Sound, viewed from the artist's home in Darien, Connecticut.
Frankenthaler applied her breakthrough soak-stain technique to other painterly media, most notably, watered-down acrylic, which she used in place of turpentine-thinned paint starting in the 1960s. Subsequently, she also sought to replicate the method's effects in printmaking, creating woodcuts that not only resembled paintings, but also achieved the misty, watercolor-like quality of her color washes.

Biography

Helen Frankenthaler Photo

Childhood

Helen Frankenthaler was born and raised in a wealthy Manhattan family with her two older sisters. Her parents recognized and fostered her artistic talent from a young age, sending her to progressive, experimental schools. The family took many trips in the summertime, and it was during these trips that Frankenthaler developed her love of the landscape, sea, and sky. Her father was a judge on the New York State Supreme Court and died of cancer when she was eleven years old. The loss affected her deeply, sending Helen into a four-year period of unhappiness during which time she suffered from intense migraines.

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Helen Frankenthaler Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Helen Frankenthaler
Interactive chart with Helen Frankenthaler's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Hans HofmannHans Hofmann
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning
Rufino TamayoRufino Tamayo

Personal Contacts

Robert MotherwellRobert Motherwell
Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg

Movements

CubismCubism
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

Influences on Artist
Helen Frankenthaler
Helen Frankenthaler
Years Worked: 1952 - Present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Kenneth NolandKenneth Noland
Morris LouisMorris Louis
Jules OlitskiJules Olitski

Personal Contacts

Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting

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Content compiled and written by Jessica Shaffer

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jessica Shaffer
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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