Halasz writes: "The last (and largest) gallery was also the best, with 'Jacob’s Ladder' PLUS four other paintings that rated three stars on my checklist: 'Giralda' (1956), 'Before the Caves' (1958), and 'Seven Types of Ambiguity' (1957). Centrally placed, and lording it over the others, was 'Eden' (1956), the painting that Greenberg cited as testimony to Frankenthaler’s ability to create great art even when her private life might be in the dumps. In addition to its dulcet clarity and command, it was also a very funny picture, centering, as it did, upon two blue, slightly wiggly sets of numerals, two '100'’s on either side of the top center of the canvas. Each was set in the center of a huge tear drop, outlined in olive green and lined with a peach color—or perhaps these were breasts, or perhaps chemical retorts ... These enormous tear-drops, with the '100's in them, inhabit what might or might not have been a sort of mystic garden, and the whole was limned in just four crystalline colors: peach, olive, medium blue and pale lime. What a monument of uncontainable magic was unloosed on the world by such iron discipline!"
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.
Elderfield remarks: "Looking again at about thirty of Helen’s great 1950s works, I was especially struck by three things: 1. The extraordinary variety of inventive mark-making in many of the paintings, which belies the idea that Colour Field painting was about creating homogeneous surfaces—but, then, Helen was a second-generation Abstract Expressionist, not a Colour Field painter, in the 1950s. 2. The over-all depictive thrust of these canvases. There are some works that read primarily as non-referential, abstract works, but the majority are depictive re-presentations of observed, remembered, and imagined phenomena created by 'abstract' means—which is also to say that she was intolerant of received notions of depiction and abstraction. 3. The fact that every single work is different. The means may be similar, but are certainly not the same from work to work. The organization of certain works are also similar, but never identical. And the imaginative subject of individual works are always different. She never repeats herself."
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."
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.