Helen Frankenthaler: December 12,1928-****...United
"Whatever the medium, there is the difficulty, challenge, fascination and often productive clumsiness
of learning a new method: the wonderful puzzles and problems of translating with new materials."
An artist that many, including myself, consider the greatest living colorist
and a pioneer of staining is Helen Frankenthaler. She was born in Manhattan, New York to Alfred ( a New York State Supreme
Court Justice) and Martha. She first studies painting under Mexican painter, Rufino Tamayo, while
in high school. She earned her first degree from Bennington College in Vermont, where she studied under Paul
Feeley and later learned from Wallace Harrison and Hans Hofmann.
She then goes on to Columbia University's graduate program. By 1950, she meets major supporter of the abstract expressionists
and art critic Clement Greenberg who introduced the young artist to icons like Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Willem Elaine de Kooning, and others. She was greatly influenced
by the action paintings by Jackson Pollock. The following year she has her first solo exhibition. Soon, she would emerge as
the leader of the color field painters. “There are no rules. That is
how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.”
Another of her art influences evolved into her marriage to fellow color field artist Robert Motherwell.
They were married from 1958 to 1971.
Frankenthaler’s approach to art making was unlike most other previous
artists. She pours paints and stains onto an unprimed surface. This allowed the paint to soak into the canvas. The approach
is an extension of Jackson Pollock’s approach to painting. “One really beautiful wrist motion,
that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it. It looks as if it were born in a minute.” The
pooled colors are overlapped to create the desired look. These thin washes of stain layer up and soak into the canvas. Her
transparent stains are her own secret applications technique and paint recipe. “You have to know
how to use the accident, how to recognize it, how to control it, and ways to eliminate it so that the whole surface looks
felt and born all at once.” She developed the recipe (supposedly consisting of house paint, enamel, turpentine
and oil) in 1952.
Over the years she earned many degrees, honors and awards. One of the highest
honors came in 2001, when she earned the National Medal of the Arts presented at the White House. She currently lives and
works in New York.