I can honestly say that there’s a very real sense in which I have never not known about Helen Frankenthaler and her work. My mother was a great admirer of Helen’s art, returned from a vacation in New York gushing about what she had seen when I was still in grammar school. To my sorrow that catalogue has disappeared. A good friend from junior and senior high school had Frankenthaler’s work in her house, along with Picassos and Kandinskys.
[caption id="attachment_461" align="aligncenter" width="276" caption="Tales of Genii III, Helen Frankenthaler, 1998, fifty-three-color woodcut from 18 woodblocks (17 maple, 1 mahogany) and 2 stencils on gray TGL handmade paper,” 47x42” (119.4x106.7cm), Edition 36, Artist’s proofs 14."][/caption]
I choose Helen Frankenthaler because she is the head of a pantheon of abstract expressionists; to name a few, Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, Linda Karshan, Sandra Blow, Vija Celmins and Katherina Grosse. Purity of thought and action on the canvas emanate from Frankenthaler’s work, even if that work is a 53 color woodcut.
The Frankenthaler woodcuts astonish because they continue her pattern of breaking rules and ignoring conventional modes of working art media. She is widely credited with being the first to work with unprimed canvases, allowing oil paint to halo and stain, and in so doing, to influence a number of artists, Jules Olitski and Sam Francis as foremost examples.
Helen Frankenthaler is my lodestar. I keep two quotes from her displayed in my studio, “A really good picture looks as if it’s happened all at once. It’s an immediate image. For my own work when a picture looks labored and you can read in it—well she did this, and then she did that, and then she did that—there is something in it that has not got to do with beautiful art to me.”
In the description of the exhibit of the woodcuts at the National Gallery of Australia’s website, she is quoted, “There are no rules, that is one thing I say about every medium, every picture. . .that is how art is born, that is how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules, that is what invention is about."