Abstract landscapes of a follower of Jackson Pollock, who is called the "artist of the color field"
Abstract landscapes of a follower of Jackson Pollock, who is called the "artist of the color field"

Helen (Helen) Frankenthaler was an American abstract painter. Usually identified as a color field artist, she drew on the influence of mid-century abstraction throughout her career, but continued to search for herself, constantly experimenting with styles and materials.

Center Break (Detail), Helen Frankenthaler, 1963. \ Photo: google.com

Helen is considered a second generation abstract expressionist. The artists of this cohort, who rose to prominence in the 1950s, were influenced by early Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. While the early Abstract Expressionists came up with their painting style as a way to break down the medium into its fundamental problems and discard inhibitions in order to do more expressive work, the second generation formalized the language of Abstract Expressionism into a more defined aesthetic style.

Ocean Drive West No. 1, Helen Frankenthaler, 1974. \ Photo: pinterest.co.uk

There are two main subgenres of Abstract Expressionism: action painting and color field painting. Although Helen is often considered a color field painter, her early paintings clearly demonstrate the influence of action painting (e.g. Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock), which is characterized by vigorous brushing or other irregular paint applications, seemingly to a great extent. degrees caused by feelings and various kinds of emotions.

Before the Caves, Helen Frankenthaler, 1958. \ Photo: wfdd.org

As her style matured, she began to lean more towards the color field (for example, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clifford Still). This in turn secured her place as an integral part of American art. However, over the course of her career, the stylistic influence of action painting reappears in her later works.

Mountains and Sea, Helen Frankenthaler, 1952 \ Photo: ideahuntr.com

Helen's most recognized contribution to painting is the soak-stain technique, in which diluted paint is applied to an unprimed canvas, resulting in the organic, fluid fields of color characteristic of her later work. Helen originally used oil paint diluted with turpentine. Her use of the soak-stain technique is borrowed from Jackson Pollock's method of dripping paint onto a canvas lying on the ground. In addition, some of Helen's early experiments with this technique involved linear shapes and stripes of paint that intersect in much Pollock's manner.

Written on 51st Street, Helen Frankenthaler, 1950. \ Photo: wikiart.org

Before she came to the spotting technique, Helen's paintings had obvious details in the style of action painting and resembled the abstract works of Arshile Gorky or the early works of Pollock. The heavy, textured surface and its mixture of oil paint and other materials (sand, Parisian plaster, coffee grounds) are reminiscent of de Kooning. With the help of the staining technique, she finally moved away from this style, more and more leaning towards painting the color field.

Eden, Helen Frankenthaler, 1956. \ Photo: gagosian.com

The spotting technique will remain fundamental to Helen for the rest of her career. However, over time, she found that this technique is not without problems and will require revision. Helen's painted oil paintings are not archival because oil paint eats away at the unprimed canvas. In many of her early oil paintings, these signs of decay are already evident. This technical issue forced Helen to switch to other materials.

Little Paradise, Helen Frankenthaler, 1964 \ Photo: americanart.si.edu

In the 1950s, acrylics became commercially available, and by the early 1960s, Helen had ditched oils in favor of acrylics. New acrylic paints, when thinned to a consistency, did not flow as much over the unprimed canvas as oil paints.Thanks to this, Helen was able to create denser, cleaner margins and shapes in her acrylic paintings. The moment she switched from oil to acrylic, her work began to look much brighter and sharper.

Barometer, Helen Frankenthaler, 1992. \ Photo: masslive.com

More theoretically, Helen's technique represented an important step for the modernist project as a whole. The theme of modernism is the tension between the inherent flatness of the canvas and the illusion of depth in painting. Jacques-Louis David's Oath of the Horati is sometimes considered the first modernist painting because of the way it compresses space, bringing the painting's entire story to the fore. The plane of the image collapsed with subsequent, increasingly abstract movements that readily recognized the reality of their flatness.

Europe, Helen Frankenthaler, 1957. \ Photo: gagosian.com

By the time of post-war abstraction, the only depth that remained was either the literal physicality of paint and canvas, or the subtle hint of space that occurs whenever colors or tones are placed next to each other. Mark Rothko tried to get around any sense of the dimensionality of his work by using sponges to apply extremely thin layers of paint to his canvases. Helen's Mountains and Sea is the epitome of a truly flat painting, painted almost two hundred years after David painted The Oath of the Horatii.

Helen Frankenthaler, recipient of the 2002 National Medal of Arts. \ Photo: artnews.com

Fully painted paintings from the 50s and 60s are iconic in Helen's work, but in later paintings, she re-emerges an interest in texture. Towards the end of her life, in the 90s and 2000s, a thick, glaze-like paint is visible everywhere in many of the artist's paintings, which she abandoned in the early 50s.

Tutti-Frutti, Helen Frankenthaler, 1966. \ Photo: fonron.com

As a result, her painting mixed the inclinations and stylistic features of various styles, including abstract modernism. Her works include action painting and field color painting. Sometimes she directs Pollock's energy or lives in a moving surface of a canvas covered with paint. At other times, its immense color spaces absorb the viewer, sometimes with the same total solemnity as Rothko. Throughout all of this, she remains infinitely inventive in her compositions, constantly engaging in dialogue with her material, allowing him to guide her. Helen painted with the sincere seriousness of the first Abstract Expressionists at certain moments and with the knowing shyness of the second generation at others.

In the next article, read also about what modernism and postmodernism have in commonand why this art has been criticized over the years.

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