• The Passing Of An Icon: Helen Frankenthaler

    Date posted: December 27, 2011 Author: jolanta

    Images of Helen Frankenthaler and Clement Greenberg hanging out at the Cedar Bar or upstate visiting David Smith are burned into our cultural memory.  It was at the turn of the beat generation where artists, poets and writers co-mingled in what would be the the tail end of a thriving American bohemia.  These icons of a generation stick with us some 50 years after the heyday of Color Field painting, because the images they made left an impact.  Images which resonated with a generation in the midst of profound change.  By the time Frankenthaler painted Mountains and Sea in 1952,  gone were the easel paintings of 20 years ago.  She found herself laying canvas on the floor and spilling paint directly on the surface.

    “They resonated with a generation in the midst of profound change.”

     

    Helen Frankenthaler, Small’s Paradise, 1964. Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 93 5/8 in. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of George L. Erion

     

    The Passing Of An Icon:  Helen Frankenthaler

    Images of Helen Frankenthaler and Clement Greenberg hanging out at the Cedar Bar or upstate visiting David Smith are burned into our cultural memory.  It was at the turn of the beat generation where artists, poets and writers co-mingled in what would be the the tail end of a thriving American bohemia.  These icons of a generation stick with us some 50 years after the heyday of Color Field painting, because the images they made left an impact.  Images which resonated with a generation in the midst of profound change.  By the time Frankenthaler painted Mountains and Sea in 1952,  gone were the easel paintings of 20 years ago.  She found herself laying canvas on the floor and spilling paint directly on the surface.  This return to the primal ,to the elemental ,was a profoundly intimate and revolutionary turn for painting.  At the forefront, Helen Frankenthaler’s canvases left an imprint on a generation – her trace left for successive painters to come.

    So it is with profound sadness, that the family of Helen Frankenthaler announces the death of Ms. Frankenthaler on December 27, 2011, at age 83, following a lengthy illness. Frankenthaler, whose career spanned six decades, has long been recognized as one of the great American artists of the 20th century. Heir of the first-generation Abstract Expressionists, she brought together in her work—always with prodigious inventiveness and singular beauty—the idea of the canvas as both an arena of gesture and a formal field. She was eminent among the second generation of postwar abstract American 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.

    Frankenthaler, daughter of New York State Supreme Court Justice Alfred Frankenthaler and his wife, Martha (Lowenstein) Frankenthaler, was born on December 12, 1928, and raised in New York City. She attended the Dalton School, where she received her earliest art instruction from Rufino Tamayo. In 1949, she graduated from Bennington College, where she was a student of Paul Feeley, following which she went on to study briefly with Hans Hofmann.

     

    Helen Frankenthaler, Mountains and Sea, 1952. Oil on canvas, 7′ 2 5/8″ x 9′ 9 1/4″ Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

     

    Frankenthaler’s professional exhibition career began in 1950, when Adolph Gottlieb selected her painting Beach (1950) for inclusion in the exhibition titled Fifteen Unknowns Selected by Artists of the Kootz Gallery. Her first solo exhibition was presented in 1951, at New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery, and she was also included that year in the landmark exhibition 9th Street: Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture. Renowned art critic Clement Greenberg immediately recognized her originality. Her work went on to garner growing international attention. As early as 1959, she began to be a regular presence in major international exhibitions, and in 1960 she had her first museum retrospective, at The Jewish Museum, in New York City.

    Her most well-known work entitled, Mountains and Sea, was a seminal breakthrough painting of American abstraction. 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. Mountains and Sea was immediately influential for the artists who formed the Color Field school of painting, notable among them Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. Thereafter, Frankenthaler remained a defining force in the development of American painting.


     


     

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