Tuesday, December 27, 2011

sad day...Helen Frankenthaler

The artist Helen Frankenthaler in her studio on Contentment Island in Darien, Conn., in 2003, with her work, "Blue Lady," acrylic on paper. Photo by Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
Many students in art classes at Georgetown College come to know the work of Helen Frankenthaler because we are fortunate to have a work by her housed in the Dr. Donald L. and Dorothy Jacobs Gallery in the Ensor Learning Resource Center on campus. Personally, I discuss her work and development as an artist, sometimes briefly and other times in depth, in art history courses. Frankenthaler offers so much to art's history and, in my view, a means of critiquing the push toward abstraction in the mid-20th century. It was sad to learn that she'd passed away this week. In her honor, I've pulled some words about and images of her and her work. Enjoy.

From The New York Times...Helen Frankenthaler, the lyrically abstract painter whose technique of staining pigment into raw canvas helped shape an influential art movement in the mid-20th century, and who became one of the most admired artists of her generation, died on Tuesday at her home in Darien, Conn. She was 83. Read the full notice here.
GC's first art history major, Ashley Gabbard Darland (GC art history '07), addressed the artist briefly in her art history thesis that year. Darland discussed each work in the Donald L. and Dorothy Jacobs Collection, housed in the Ensor LRC on the GC campus. This collection includes Bilbao, a 13-color screen print from 1998, shown immediately below.
In commenting on the artist's place in art history, Darland notes: "Helen Frankenthaler’s works are often classified as stain paintings for their thin washes of pigment that are reminiscent of watercolors. She paints directly on to non-painted canvases so the pigments stain and absorb into the canvas. She began this technique in the early 1950s after being inspired by a large exhibition of Jackson Pollock’s works. Her techniques have influenced many artists over the years, most notably those who are color-fieldists. Other than painting, Frankenthaler also welds steel sculptures, creates ceramics, and illustrates books. In 1985, she had the unique opportunity of designing the sets and costumes for a production of England’s royal ballet. She has also taught art in several universities include Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Frankenthaler was married to the late artist Robert Motherwell, whose work is also featured in the [Jacobs] gallery."

In the image above, from the original installation of the Jacobs Collection on the GC campus, Bilbao (the orange and yellow "picture" -- here, invoking Frankenthaler in my own use of language) is shown on the second wall at right.

For two thorough posts about Frankenthaler's work and her turn to prints, as well as the source site for two of the photos of Frankenthaler used above, click here and here. A screen capture of one of the blog posts, related to her work Mulberry, is inserted above.

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