10 Facts About Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler’s Grey Fireworks. An abstract expressionist screenprint of a grey background with spots of various colours. Grey Fireworks © Helen Frankenthaler 2000
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Known for her groundbreaking technique, Helen Frankenthaler effortlessly merged colour, form, and emotion to create mesmerising canvases that seemed to transcend physical spaces. With an eye for composition and balance, she embraced spontaneity and allowed the paint to flow freely, giving rise to vibrant, yet soft landscapes on her canvases. These artworks not only captivated viewers but also seemed to extend beyond their physical confines, illustrating Frankenthaler's unique ability to manipulate the medium to evoke a sense of transcendence and ethereal beauty


Helen Frankenthaler developed the iconic soak-stain technique

Helen Frankenthaler’s Earth Slice. An abstract expressionist intaglio print of a landscape of earth tones.Earth Slice © Helen Frankenthaler 1978

This technique involves pouring thinned-down paint onto unprimed canvas, allowing the pigments to soak into the fabric, creating vibrant and translucent layers of colour. Frankenthaler's soak-stain technique revolutionised abstract expressionism by introducing a more fluid and spontaneous approach to painting. Her method allowed for a fusion of control and chance, as she manipulated the flow of the paint while embracing the unpredictable nature of its absorption into the canvas.


Helen Frankenthaler's signature 1952 painting Mountains and Sea helped shape an entire art movement

Helen Frankenthaler’s Sure Viollet. An abstract expressionist intaglio print of a mountain-like landscape.Sure Violet © Helen Frankenthaler 1979

In 1952, Frankenthaler produced her groundbreaking masterpiece, Mountains and Sea, which marked a significant milestone in her career. Utilising her revolutionary technique, she poured diluted paint directly onto untreated canvas placed on the floor of her studio. Working from various angles, she skillfully crafted large works of translucent hues, resulting in captivating floating fields of colour. The profound impact of Mountains and Sea was immediately felt among artists, particularly those who continue in developing the Color Field movement like Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland.


Helen Frankenthaler studied under some of the best instructors

Helen Frankenthaler’s Hermes. An abstract expressionist relief print of an abstract yellow landscape.Hermes © Helen Frankenthaler 1989

Frankenthaler, born on December 12, 1928, in New York, was nurtured artistically at the Dalton School under the tutelage of Rufino Tamayo. Having completed her studies at Bennington College, Vermont, in 1949, under the guidance of Paul Feeley, she further honed her skills under the brief mentorship of Hans Hofmann.


Helen Frankenthaler was influenced by Jackson Pollock

Frankenthaler's career was greatly influenced by the legendary Jackson Pollock. His technique, known as drip painting, left a lasting impact on her own approach. She embraced his bold and expressive use of colour, as well as his emphasis on the physical act of painting itself.


Helen Frankenthaler married a fellow artist

Helen Frankenthaler’s Nepenthe. An abstract expressionist intaglio print of a landscape with a pink sky.Nepenthe © Helen Frankenthaler 1972

In 1958, Frankenthaler embarked on a significant chapter of her personal life by marrying Robert Motherwell, a prominent figure in the Abstract Expressionism movement. Despite a significant age gap of thirteen years, their union became a notable partnership recognised in the art world. Both artists held esteemed positions, contributing to the evolution of Abstract Expressionism. Their marriage lasted for thirteen years, coming to an end in 1971.


Helen Frankenthaler produced large scale works

Helen Frankenthaler’s Savage Breeze. An abstract expressionist woodcut print of a landscape of green grass and muted red in between. Savage Breeze © Helen Frankenthaler 1974

Frankenthler’s soak-stained collection has pieces that range upwards of 300 centimetres. By embracing such large-scale canvases, Frankenthaler invited viewers to engage with her art on a deeply sensory level, helping to create an immersive experience for viewers.


Helen Frankenthaler worked with a variety of mediums

Helen Frankenthaler’s Blue Current. An abstract expressionist intaglio of deep blue water currents.Blue Current © Helen Frankenthaler 1987

In her extensive artistic journey, Frankenthaler maintained a constant spirit of experimentation. Alongside her remarkable achievements in canvas and paper paintings, she also worked with diverse mediums, such as ceramics, sculpture, tapestry, printmaking, and more.


Helen Frankenthaler made a global impact on the art world

Helen Frankenthaler’s Grey Fireworks. An abstract expressionist screenprint of a grey background with spots of various colours. Grey Fireworks © Helen Frankenthaler 2000

Starting from 1959, Frankenthaler established herself as a frequent participant in significant global art exhibitions. During that same year, she achieved first place in the prestigious Première Biennale of Paris. She helped represent the United States at the 1966 Venice Biennale in 1966, alongside esteemed artists like Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jules Olitski.


Helen Frankenthaler’s exhibition debut was at the Kootz Gallery in New York

Helen Frankenthaler’s Tahiti. An abstract expressionist relief print of a green landscape with various shapes and markings. Tahiti © Helen Frankenthaler 1989

Frankenthaler made her professional exhibition debut in 1950 at the Kootz Gallery in New York, where her painting of the same year, Beach, was chosen by Adolph Gottlieb to be featured in the prestigious exhibition Fifteen Unknowns: Selected by Artists of the Kootz Gallery.


Helen Frankenthaler had a book written about her

Helen Frankenthaler’s Flirt. An abstract expressionist screenprint of a landscape of a pink background with blue, red, and orange accents.Flirt © Helen Frankenthaler 2003

In 2015, Frankenthaler’s work was honoured through Gagosian’s publication of The Heroine Paint: After Frankenthaler. The book was a collection of essays that examined the career and works of Frankenthaler, and was edited by distinguished art historian and curator, Katy Siegel. The comprehensive analysis offers readers a more in depth understanding of the artist’s paintings and its impact on the art scene.

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