Artist

Helen Frankenthaler

born New York City 1928-died Darien, CT 2011
Born
New York, New York, United States
Died
Darien, Connecticut, United States
Active in
  • Provincetown, Massachusetts, United States
  • Stamford, Connecticut, United States
Nationalities
  • American
Biography

Helen Frankenthaler's works helped redefine painting. From the Renaissance on, a painting was considered a window onto the world, through which one saw an illusion of reality. This concept was challenged intensely throughout the first half of the twentieth century, climaxing in the 1950s with the work of artists like Frankenthaler and Jackson Pollock.

Frankenthaler returned home from college in 1949 to her native New York, the city producing the most revolutionary art of the day. Within two years she was moving in the same circles as those responsible for this new work. Her commitment to the Abstract Expressionists, combined with her appreciation of past art, resulted in a new painting technique and works such as Small's Paradise [SAAM, 1967.121]. She spread huge pieces of canvas on the floor of her studio, pouring the acrylic paint from cans and pushing it with sponges. Frankenthaler thinned the paint so that the pigment did not sit on the surface of the canvas as paint always had, but soaked into the fabric, establishing a new relationship between the medium and its support. Frankenthaler's "stain painting" was her personal invention.

The existence of a distinct feminine aesthetic, an issue that has preoccupied many critics, is particularly relevant to Frankenthaler's expressively fluid work. Frankenthaler herself in 1965 questioned those who saw her work solely in terms of gender, calling this approach "superficial." Later in the same interview, however, she mused, "I wonder if my pictures are more lyrical (that loaded word!) because I'm a woman?"

Elizabeth Chew Women Artists (brochure, Washington, DC: National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Exhibitions

This is a painting of a large black circle and a smaller red circle surrounded by a blue mass.
Color as Field: American Painting, 1950 – 1975
February 29, 2008May 25, 2008
Color as Field: American Painting, 1950–1975 is the first ever full-scale examination of the sources, meaning and impact of the Color Field movement. Color Field painting, which emerged in the United States in the 1950s, is characterized by pouring, staining, spraying or painting thinned paint onto raw canvas to create vast chromatic expanses. These works constitute one of the crowning achievements of postwar American abstract art. The exhibition includes 39 beautiful and impressively scaled paintings by such major figures as Gene Davis, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski. Color as Field presents a remarkable opportunity for viewers to fully comprehend the aims of these artists, view their finest works in close relation to each other and experience the beauty and visual magnetism of their pictorial handling of space and color.

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