Carl Belz recalls how the installation of the 1981 exhibition Frankenthaler: The 1950s at the Rose Art Museum became "a memorable collaboration with the artist herself."
Belz writes: "We walked through the show together, Helen looking quietly at the pictures, remembering them, for in many cases she had not seen them in the flesh since they left her hand more than 20 years earlier. Certainly she had not seen them assembled as she was seeing them at that moment, and I began to realize that what I assumed was a triumph--the full spectrum of her first decade of achievement--was also her vulnerability, a laying bare of her initial urge in the direction of genuinely ambitious painting. She admitted as much, acknowledging the nervousness she had felt on her way to the museum, but she also said she was deeply satisfied with how everything looked, and she congratulated me for my knowledge of, and sensitivity to, the work, asking in conclusion if I would mind if we rearranged a few pictures."
Painter Helen Frankenthaler, a key member of the New York School, died today in Connecticut. Frankenthaler, energized by Jackson Pollock’s all-over method of painting, pioneered the technique of pouring paint onto unprimed canvas early in her career. Radical at the time, this technique was memorialized in Emile de Antonio’s seminal film Painters Painting. She noted: “I did not want a small gesture, standing at the easel with a sable brush ... I literally wanted to break free, put it on the floor, throw the paint around… “ 1
Helen Frankenthaler, Snow Pines, 2004, Thirty-four water based color Ukiyo-e style woodcut (courtesy Leslie Sacks Fine Art)
Frankenthaler took improvisation to new heights. In a 2003 interview with Ted Loos, Frankenthaler noted that “her decision-making process was wholly unregimented. 'There is no ‘always,’... No formula. There are no rules. Let the picture lead you where it must go.” This experimental, free form approach to painting also led her to make unprecedented strides in abstract printmaking - particularly woodblock printing. Through overprinting (sometimes thirty or more layers) she was able to emulate the fluid, process oriented mark-making also found in her poured painting.
Frankenthaler described her own work as “pictures [that] are full of climates, abstract climates and not nature per se, but a feeling… “ 2 She was uniquely able to coax cogency from painterly accident - achieving images that are a unique blend of eastern and western styles and recalling at once calligraphic landscape painting and analytic cubism.
Kenneth Tyler remembers Helen Frankenthaler's groundbreaking printmaking work at Tyler Graphics. He not only fondly recalls working with Frankenthaler, but also describes in detail the collaborative process involved in creating her large-scale woodcut prints.
Tyler describes: "For the Genji and Madame Butterfly woodcuts, she made wonderful painted wood panels that were used as the guide for making the color woodcuts on colored handmade papers (made by John Hutcheson and Tom Strianese). Yasu [Shibata] carved the many blocks, closely collaborating with Helen on every nuance of carving and printing. For Radius and Freefall, she painted color paper pulp maquettes, splashing away in our paper mill. These studies were interpreted by Tom into numerous stencils, the stencils then employed to apply color pulp to handmade paper substrates. These lushly colored sheets were used for the woodcut editions."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.