Helen Frankenthalter, the last of the Abstract Expressionists, died on December 27, 2011, at the age of eighty-three. In 1951, when she was only twenty-three, she began to soak, or stain, her canvasses with extremely thin paint. The following year, she created Mountains and Sea, a large work that is often cited as her “breakthrough.” Frankenthaler commented, “I had always painted on sized canvas, but my paint was becoming thinner and cried out to be soaked. I wanted to draw in with color and shape the totally abstract memory of the landscape.” She combined the influences of Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Wassily Kandinsky and Jackson Pollock she achieved something different. Her influence was felt not just in New York City, but in Washington, D.C., especially in the works of Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Leon Berkowitz. In the spring of 1953 the three painters were among those taken to Frankenthaler’s studio by eminent critic Clement Greenberg. Oddly enough, Frankenthaler was absent, but her soak-stained work pretty much blew everybody away. Morris Louis stated that Frankenthaler was a “bridge between Pollock and what was possible.”
The American Art Museum contains about sixteen works by Frankenthaler. A few years ago, Eye Level took a look at Frankenthaler’s Small’s Paradise.
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