Helen Frankenthaler, Sesame, 1970. (source)
Helen Frankenthaler, Robinson's Wrap, 1974. Acrylic on Canvas, 70 x 94 inches. (source)
Frankenthaler was born in the 1920's, and made work among the abstract expressionists of New York. Those guys were guys- they were the ones who made painting masculine (think of guys crushing beer cans while explaining how the colour red is the most difficult to paint because it's the most difficult for our eyes to see, it actually is the most difficult to see- because it reflects the least amount of light- but I digress...). Amid these- jocks of painting- this one woman stood out- making works of art that were just as- if not more so - full of daring, and abstraction. They're called colour field paintings.
A quick art history lesson here- The importance of the American abstract expressionist movement is mostly historical- in that as far the history of art is concerned up until that point art was largely representational- it was meant to be an image of something recognizable- or a design meant for decoration. It was not art that celebrated the medium, maybe the best way to describe this is that if you used paint to make an image, it wasn't ever about the paint itself, the way that paint acts- the texture of the paint itself, the mark made by the brushes were all secondary or even meant to be hidden- a bad painting had visible brushstrokes.
These guys changed that- there's a lot of political implications to all this too -abstract expressionism- and Pollock as it's media sweetheart were championed as a symbol of American freedom of expression when contrasted to the soviet union (hello cold war). So no matter what you think of this work- it is important work-even if it's not your thing- for anyone though who loves the way that paint works- for those who revel in the medium of paint- these paintings are glorious.
Frankenthaler is a bit of a personal hero not only because her paintings show a depth and sensitivity to her medium that astounds me, but also because she must have been a tough chick to put up with that art scene- and I admire that. Her paintings are bold and strong without being masculine or harsh, they're painterly without brushstrokes- they're complex and simple. They're so true- which is perhaps an odd thing to say about an abstract image- but what I mean is that speak directly and eloquently to my soul.