Helen Frankenthaler was an American abstract expressionist painter. She has significantly influenced the development of American postwar painting. She eventually became a member of the second generation of expressionists. The works of Greenberg, Hans Hofmann, and Jackson Pollock served as inspiration for her. She was an active painter for nearly six decades, during which her work was exhibited. When Frankenthaler’s piece Mountains and Sea was displayed in 1952, it gave her career as an artist a boost. Frankenthaler always sought solitude when working. She expanded abstraction’s expressive possibilities while exploring various figurations and settings in her distinctive way by creating the soak-stain technique.

Helen Frankenthaler posing in her studio, new york, 1978_©Brownie Harris/Corbis
Helen Frankenthaler posing in her studio, new york, 1978_©Brownie Harris/Corbis

1. Mountains and Sea | Helen Frankenthaler

Mountains and Sea, Frankenthaler’s first piece of commercially exhibited art, was created in 1952 when she was 23 years old. Additionally, it was her first piece of art using the soak-stain process. Even though the painting only has features that imply a scene at the seashore, with strokes of blue and green sections, it was named after the coastal cliffs Frankenthaler had visited in Nova Scotia. This piece of art, which featured a view of nature, conveyed the mood of all its components without providing a clear portrayal. She painted this using turpentine or kerosene to thin down her paint on an unprimed canvas.

Mountains and sea painting by Helen Frankenthaler in 1952_©https://artisticafineart.com/
Mountains and sea painting by Helen Frankenthaler in 1952_©https://artisticafineart.com/

2. East and Beyond

Suggested by Tatyana Grosman, Helen Frankenthaler tries her hand at making woodcuts, the oldest form of printmaking. Frankenthaler adopted the method of the Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch without any prior training. To create the woodcut, Munch joins many pieces of inked wood and prints the design in one pass. To create this woodcut, Frankenthaler utilized a piece of lauan mahogany using the aforementioned technique. According to critics, this is one of her greatest prints. This artwork has a sense of warmth and an organic character that is reflected in its rich colour palette.

East and beyond, 1973_©https://www.moma.org/
East and beyond, 1973_©https://www.moma.org/

3. Aerie | Helen Frankenthaler

Aerie, acrylic on paper, 1995_©https://commons.und.edu/
Aerie, acrylic on paper, 1995_©https://commons.und.edu/

This artwork was produced two years before Frankenthaler passed away. It is the 1995 artwork with the same title that served as the inspiration for this screenprint. It is a great illustration of her enthusiasm and shows her love of vibrant colours and poetic art. For the tiny variations in colour intensity, Frankenthaler utilized nearly 90 screens. This was a hand-made screenprint that was exceedingly intricate. On a large canvas, the palette was kept pleasant and appropriate by using flat colour forms and little features. Aerie is one of her best prints and exhibits her work’s strongest aesthetic qualities.

4. Canyon

The canyon displays the landscape‘s topographic elements. This piece of art is a classic colour field painting from 1965. Acrylic paints were poured and applied in various patterns onto an unprimed canvas to make it. Frankenthaler let the orange and red colours run across the canvas. The top of the picture is allowed to just breathe thanks to the greens around the vibrant and energetic pool of red. Following the development of Jackson Pollock‘s drip style, this technique was given the name colour field painting. The canvas material wasn’t gessoed or otherwise altered to allow the pigment to absorb into it.

Canyon displayed in house stairway_©https://www.phillipscollection.org/
Canyon displayed in house stairway_©https://www.phillipscollection.org/

5. Savage Breeze | Helen Frankenthaler

Together with the Long Island printing workshop, ULAE (universal limited art editions), this woodcut was created. Frankenthaler carved tiny sheets of plywood into forms that she then individually inked. Instead of being carved, Savage Breeze seems to be painted. This shows a flat area above the mountains. Frankenthaler worked hard to replicate the vivid colours she got from her paintings, which thankfully led to the invention of this art form. This piece of art was created after several attempts. She utilized eight slabs of lauan mahogany plywood on buff laminated Nepalese paper in her 1974 creation.

Savage breeze in 2018 in New york_©https://www.artic.edu/
Savage breeze in 2018 in New york_©https://www.artic.edu/

6. Desert Pass

The Desert Pass was made in 1976 by Helen Frankenthaler and is now housed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Its warm brown and sandy golden hues, which were inspired by her trip to Arizona, invite you to think of the southwest. The greenish-blue tones indicate the hue of the cactus, while the yellow-gold tones imitate the sand, giving you a complete sense of a genuine desert scene. An earthy colour scheme was used to make this piece of art on canvas using the acrylic medium. The aesthetic of Desert Pass is comparable to a watercolour painting as a result of the soak-stain proces

Helen Frankenthaler- 10 Iconic Artworks - Sheet7
Desert pass,1976_©https://arthistoryproject.com/

7. Essence Mulberry

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s hand-printed prints from the 15th century and a mulberry tree outside Kenneth Tyler’s printing studio in New York City served as inspiration for Frankenthaler. The essence of mulberry differs significantly from other woodcuts produced in the current age. Mulberry juice improved the quality of the paintings and increased the range of possible materials. Using blocks made of wood, birch, walnut, and lauan, Frankenthaler created prints with various printed effects. The first of several collaborations with Tyler Graphics were printed by Frankenthaler.

Helen Frankenthaler- 10 Iconic Artworks - Sheet8
Essence of mulberry,1977_©https://gagosian.com/

8. Madame Butterfly

The Madam Butterfly, designed in 2000, is a work of enchantment and beauty. This intricate piece, which was created in conjunction with Tyler Graphics as the final project, has 46 woodblocks, 106 colours, and a length of 6 feet. Frankenthaler acquired the Japanese ukiyo-e printing method while visiting Kyoto, and she utilized it to create Madame Butterfly and other works for the show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The title of this piece is referenced in Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly (1904), a sad love story centred on a Japanese woman.

Helen Frankenthaler- 10 Iconic Artworks - Sheet9
working proof of madame butterly_©https://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/

9. Tutti Frutti

One of Helen Frankenthaler’s works that shows the clash of many vibrant hues is titled Tutti frutti. It was given the name of a fruit-flavoured ice cream treat. This piece of art is the ideal illustration of Frankenthaler’s appreciation of fluidity in painting and his emphasis on organic, rounded shapes. It was painted on canvas in 1966 using acrylic materials. Presently, it is located in Buffalo, New York’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Areas where the colours collided were referred to by Frankenthaler as “well-ordered collisions.” She was technically experimenting with the soak-stain process at the time, deviating from Pollock’s method by diluting her paint.

Helen Frankenthaler- 10 Iconic Artworks - Sheet10
tutti frutti, 1966_©https://buffaloakg.org/

10. The Bay | Helen Frankenthaler

Looking at the blue hues, the bay highlights the colours and shapes while evoking a sense of radiance and spontaneity. The colours used here convey emotions and reactions, much as in her previous works of art. The 1966 Venice Biennale chose this piece of art for the American pavilion. If you examine the artwork carefully, you will see that the way the colours flow illustrates how the paint was applied on the canvas. Helen was already a famous artist when she made the bay.

Helen Frankenthaler- 10 Iconic Artworks - Sheet11
the bay, 1963_©https://www.tallengestore.com/


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Khushi is an interior designer who believes the key to understanding is communication, and what could be a better medium than words? She finds joy in little things as they matter a lot. She enjoys rom-com literature and poetry, always keen on learning something new.