Helen Frankenthaler, American (1928 - 2011)

 Born in Manhattan, New York, she became the leader of the Color Field painters in New York City, emerging in the 1950s under the influence of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Her work is a transition from Abstract Expressionism.

She was educated at New York's Dalton School, and in high school studied with Rufino Tamayo and later with Hans Hofmann. She attended Bennington College. Her family vacationed in Maine where she learned to love open views of land and sea, subject matter and an attitude of expansiveness reflected in her canvases.

With a studio in New York, her mentor became art critic Clement Greenberg who introduced her to most of the prominent 1950s artists including Pollock and DeKooning, her inspirations for gestural technique, Action Painting. From 1958 to 1971, she was married to artist Robert Motherwell.

Her technique was novel. Rather than painting on a primed canvas, she poured paint over an unprimed surface that allowed the paint to soak into the canvas. This staining and the process involved became her trademark style, and a whole generation of artists, known as Color Field painters, followed her. Her large studio has been in New York City.

In 1999, she won the Jerusalem Prize for Arts and Letters, given by the Friends of Israel's National Academy of Arts and Design.

American painter Helen Frankenthaler sadly passed away on 27 December, 2011, at her home in Darien, Connecticut. The artist aged 83, found her place on the American scene alongside great figures of Abstract Expressionism such as Morris Louis, Joan Mitchell and Sam Francis. Frankenthaler gave new life to this movement of American abstract painting without breaking the legacy of the previous generation, especially Robert Motherwell whom she married in 1958 but divorced twelves years later.

Frankenthaler was very early influenced by the art of Rufino Tamayo and Paul Feeley created after World War II. The critic Clement Greenberg, who she met at Bennington College, introduced her to the major artists of the American scene after the war, including David Smith, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Jackson Pollock.

As the master of ”dripping” Frankenthaler developed her own painting technique, the “pouring” of placing her work on pigments diluted with turpentine. While Pollock’s technique seems to flow over the surface of his compositions, Frankenthaler’s colour seems to melt into the canvas, as if the stains were already deeply soaked into the fabric. She used this technique in 1952 in one of her most famous pieces, Mountains and Seas (National Gallery of Art, Washington).

Her career has been the subject of numerous retrospectives such as the one held at MoMA in New York, in 1989. She was also honoured in 2001 by National Medal of Arts.


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