Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler

A prominent figure among the second generation of postwar American abstract painters, Helen Frankenthaler was a progenitor of Color Field painting who, while testing the bounds of abstraction and figuration, prioritized procedure over gesture. Born in New York City in 1928, Frankenthaler was raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where she studied at the Dalton School under Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo. She subsequently trained with Paul Feeley at Bennington College in Vermont, and then privately with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In 1951, just a year after she returned to New York to paint full time, Frankenthaler was included in the landmark exhibition 9th St. Exhibition of Paintings and Sculptureand had her first solo exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York. In 1952, with her breakthrough painting Mountains and Sea, Frankenthaler abandoned her early biomorphic, all-over compositions and developed a method wherein oil paint was thinned to the consistency of watercolor and then poured onto raw canvas. This soak-stain technique resulted in expanses of modulating color that created a sense of space while emphasizing the flatness of the picture plane, prefiguring Color Field painting of the late ’50s and ’60s. Frankenthaler’s six-decade-long career would eventually also include welded-steel sculptures, ceramics, prints, and illustrated books;hers was a significant voice in the mid-century “print renaissance.”

Retrospectives of Frankenthaler’s work include those presented at the Jewish Museum, New York (1960); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1969); Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (1980); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1985); and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1989). Among other honors, in 1966, she represented the U.S. at the 33rd Venice Biennale, along with Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jules Olitski.Frankenthaler passed away in Darien, Connecticut, in 2011.

 

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