Helen Frankenthaler

today i’m inspired by the work of legendary abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler. her huge colourful paintings look like gigantic watercolours, but are in fact painted with oils & acrylics. Helen would work directly on unprepared canvas, and dilute the oil paint with turpentine (later she switched to acrylic paint), causing it to soak into the canvas – a technique called “soak stain” that was later adopted by other abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock. her work was not highly gestural and painterly, instead she preferred to create pieces that looked as if they were “born in a minute”.

A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once. It’s an immediate image. For my own work, when a picture looks labored and overworked, and you can read in it – well, she did this and then she did that, and then she did that – there is something in it that has not got to do with beautiful art to me. … I think very often it takes ten of those over-labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it, and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute.

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 was born and raised in New York, and was celebrated in the NYC art scene since her debut in the 50s.  she produced work until her death in 2011 (you can read her obituary at the New York Times), and apart from her painting she also created lithographs, etchings, screen prints and woodcuts. you can see her work at many institutions across the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA, the Guggenheim and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Helen Frankenthaler photographed by Gordon Parks for Life Magazine

photographed by Gordon Parks for Life Magazine, 1956

Basque Beach, 1958 by Helen Frankenthaler

Basque Beach, 1958

Summer Scene Provincetown, 1961 by Helen Frankenthaler

Summer Scene Provincetown, 1961

Helen Frankenthaler photographed by Ernst Haas
Helen Frankenthaler photographed by Ernst Haas

photographed in her studio by Ernst Haas

Flood, 1967 by Helen Frankenthaler

Flood, 1967

Tutti Fruitti, 1966 by Helen Frankenthaler

Tutti Fruitti, 1966

Helen Frankenthaler, photographer unknown

photographed by by Alexander Liberman

Nepenthe, 1972 by Helen Frankenthaler

Nepenthe, 1972

Helen Frankenthaler photographed by William Grigsby

photographed by William Grigsby in her home, 1967

Untitled, 1965 by Helen Frankenthaler

Untitled, 1965

Helen Frankenthaler by Alexander Liberman

photographed by Alexander Liberman

Persian Garden, 1965 by Helen Frankenthaler

Persian Garden, 1965

Portrait of Helen Frankenthaler in front of woodblock proofs for Essence Mulberry, 1977

Helen Frankenthaler in front of woodblock proofs for Essence Mulberry, 1977 photographed by Lindsay Green

Helen Frankenthaler Lithographs at MOM

lithographs in the collection of MOMA

Helen-Frankenthaler-Alexander-Liberman

in her studio by Alexander Liberman

Small Paradise, 1964 by Helen Frankenthaler

Small Paradise, 1964

Helen Frankenthaler by Michael Fredericks

photographed by Michael Fredericks

Snowpines, 2004 by Helen Frankenthaler

Snowpines, 2004

Helen Frankenthaler, Painted on 21st Street

Painted on 21st Street

Untitled, 1963 by Helen Frankenthaler

Untitled, 1963

Helen Frankenthaler, photographer unknown

photographed by Alexander Liberman

Indian Summer, 1967 by Helen Frankenthaler

Indian Summer, 1967

Helen Frankenthaler photographed by Dan Budnick

Helen Frankenthaler photographed by Dan Budnick

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19 Responses to Helen Frankenthaler

  1. Kate Friday 7 February, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    Love this! She had such style and grace. And what colours! The girls at MOMO would approve.

    x

  2. Anoushka Friday 7 February, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    thanks for that! beautiful.

  3. Vicky Friday 7 February, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    Diana: super inspirational post! Thanks! have a nice weekend! Kisses

  4. ART AND COFFEE Friday 7 February, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    The first photo is just amazing.

  5. Sarah Friday 7 February, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

    She is one of my all time favorite artists! I was so sad when she died because I had always dreamed of meeting her.

  6. Sasha Friday 7 February, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    She is certainly an artist that more people should know of – it is great to see you featuring her in this space!

  7. tara-lynn morrison Friday 7 February, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    always love artists in their studios! thanks for sharing these.

  8. Elsabe Friday 7 February, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

    Scrolling up and down, up and down…

  9. maddie Friday 7 February, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

    Wow. I have never heard of Helen’s work. I have an affinity towards a watercolor/painterly aesthetic, and I love how she took it to another level and in another direction. That’s what makes an artist.

  10. Dana @ Discreet Charms Friday 7 February, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    I’ve loved that first image for a long while – thank you for taking the time to chronicle her amazing career and work in such detail! I love the idea of synchronizing the wrist with the head and the heart – and that that synchronization was for her what produced good art. makes sense! easier said than done, though, I’m sure :) such genius.

  11. casey Saturday 8 February, 2014 at 5:06 am #

    Tutti fruitti – too good! The B&W pictures are beautiful.

  12. Hanni / Troistudios Photography Saturday 8 February, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    Love her work!

  13. Lauren Sunday 9 February, 2014 at 1:32 am #

    One of my favorite artists. The Portland Art Museum has a painting of hers that I go back to again and again. Thank you for highlighting her.

  14. Amy Sacksteder Monday 10 February, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

    She was one of the first professional artists to use acrylic paints after they were introduced in the mid-1950s, thus most of her paintings made from 1963 onward, were acrylic stain on canvas.

    Here’s a source: http://www.phillipscollection.org/research/american_art/artwork/Frankenthaler-Canyon.htm

    • Miss Moss Monday 10 February, 2014 at 11:42 pm #

      thanks for clearing that up!

  15. Elizabeth Smith Saturday 15 February, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    Love your comments and your photoessay on Helen’s work. Thanks from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, which is just getting up and running! http://www.frankenthalerfoundation.org

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