Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) is recognized as one of the great American artists of the 20th century.
She “was eminent among the second generation of postwar American abstract painters and is widely credited for playing a pivotal role in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Color Field painting,” writes the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation on its website.
“The wonderful thing about Helen is she elbowed her way in,” said Joy Armstrong, curator of modern and contemporary art at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. “She had some advantages, but was a very successful artist. She was in her 20s when she became a sensation. There are lots of reasons she’s exceptional, not the least of which is her really cool painting technique.
Rather than amass layer upon layer of paint, as her contemporary Jackson Pollock was famous for doing, Frankenthaler created works through “soak staining,” pouring paint thinned with turpentine onto her canvases, allowing it to permeate the fibers. “Her pioneering technique, along with her use of landscape to inform her abstract work, forever changed the way artists conceived and used color in their work,” writes Bennington College in Bennington, Vt., where Frankenthaler studied art.
The FAC will present a special exhibition, “Fluid Expressions: The Prints of Helen Frankenthaler, From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation,” Friday through June 2. It features 28 prints made using techniques including lithography, etching, screen printing and woodcut. Schnitzer, president of Portland, Ore.-based Harsch Investment Properties, bought his first Frankenthaler print in 1994 and continued to acquire her work.
“Frankenthaler fits in with some of our own best-known works in our collection, including two by Robert Motherwell (whom she married in 1958) and one by Grace Hardigan,” Armstrong said. “She worked with Rufino Tamayo and Hans Hofmann and comes from a long line of abstract artists. It was a tightly knit group of predominantly white, male artists. But you see a few women shining through: Frankenthaler, Elaine de Kooning, Joan Mitchell and Lee Krasner. There were so many women artists working at that time, but they’ve really been left out of the historical canon.”
Frankenthaler’s prints “read like paintings” and rival the elegance and beauty expressed in her paintings, Armstrong said.
“For those who are not previously familiar with Frankenthaler’s work or think that they don’t or can’t understand abstract work, I think this work will be surprising in how warm and beautiful it is and its sense of immediacy,” Armstrong said. “Living here in Colorado and on the Front Range, I believe we are so connected with the natural landscape. The artist felt very much the same way. Regardless of whether you see the landscape in her work, I believe she conveys the experience of being in a landscape.”
MICHELLE KARAS, THE GAZETTE, MICHELLE.KARAS@GAZETTE.COM