Art on This Day
Helen Frankenthaler, who was born on this day in 1928, has long been recognized as one of the great American artists of the twentieth century. Heir of first-generation Abstract Expressionism, she brought together in her work a conception of the canvas as both a formalized field and an arena for gestural drawing. She was eminent among the second generation of postwar American abstract painters and is widely credited for playing a pivotal role in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Color Field painting. One of the foremost colorists of our time, she produced a body of work whose impact on contemporary art has been profound.
The renowned art critic Clement Greenberg met her in 1950 and recognized her originality - and her work soon went on to garner growing international attention. Frankenthaler began exhibiting her large-scale abstract expressionist paintings in contemporary museums and galleries in the early 1950s.
She was included in the 1964 Post-Painterly Abstraction exhibition curated by Greenberg that introduced a newer generation of abstract painting that came to be known as Color Field. Pioneering the “stain” painting technique, she worked by pouring thinned paint directly onto raw, unprimed canvas laid on the studio floor, working from all sides to create floating fields of translucent color. Her work Mountains and Sea was immediately influential for the artists who formed the Color Field school of painting, notably among Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. For both men, it was a career-shaping experience. Louis in particular had been struggling with Pollock's seemingly inescapable legacy. After meeting Frankenthaler, he said that she was "the bridge between Pollock and what was possible".
In 1958, she married the artist and academic Robert Motherwell, a marriage made in painter's heaven it seemed. However, they divorced in 1971.
Frankenthaler remained a defining force in the development of American painting. Throughout her long career, she experimented tirelessly, and, in addition to unique paintings on canvas and paper, she worked in a wide range of media, including ceramics, sculpture, tapestry, and especially printmaking. Hers was a significant voice in the mid-century “print renaissance” among American abstract painters, and she is particularly renowned for her woodcuts. She continued working productively through the opening years of this century.
Frankenthaler died in 2011 in Connecticut.
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