History Lesson: Helen Frankenthaler
Let’s take a moment to appreciate Helen Frankenthaler; the American abstract expressionist painter who helped found the Color Field movement, exhibited for over six decades and is regarded one of the great artists of the twentieth century.
Born in 1928 to a prosperous and progressive Manhattan family, Helen leapt into the art scene very early when she started mixing with the New York School of artists at the age of 22. Her gender and youth set her apart from her peers instantly, but this did not stop her from contributing to the male-dominated territory of the time, inhabited by the likes of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
Influenced by Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock and the art critic Clemen Greenberg, Helen Frankenthaler came to develop a highly original and iconic way of painting that would in-turn inspire generations to come. She invented a colour-stain technique, thinning oil paint to the consistency of watercolour, and applying it directly to an unprimed canvas on the floor. The paint would soak in and stain the canvas delicately, rather than accumulate in thick layers over the top, creating a breakthrough technique that had never been seen or done before. With a balance of drawing, painting and fresh washes of colour, this method was debuted in 1952 in her iconic and arguably most-famous work, Mountains and Sea.
Helen rarely discussed the sources of inspiration for her abstract imagery, but at the very least her mediations on nature are clear. Hinting at hills, rocks, water, mountainscapes and skies, her work evokes the feeling of landscapes. “My pictures are full of climates, abstract climates,” she once said. “They're not nature per se, but a feeling.”
The work evolved from relentless experimentation, a spontaneous yet controlled method that relied on a balance of line, form and colour. She has spoken many times on using accidents as fuel, recognising the value within them, controlling and eventually eliminating it by continuing to work.
Embracing experimentation and happy accidents, yes we like the sound of that.