Helen Frankenthaler

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Frankenthaler, 1966: 'Tutti Fruitti', painting; - quote of Helen Frankenthaler, 1965: 'I still, when I judge my own pictures.. ..I determine if they work in a certain kind of space through shape or color'

Helen Frankenthaler - in quotes (12 December 1928 – 28 December 2011) was an American post-painterly abstraction artist. Born in New York City, her work was influenced by Jackson Pollock with whom she also was involved in the 1946–1960 abstract art movement.

Quotes Helen Frankenthaler[edit]

sorted chronologically, by date of the quotes of Helen Frankenthaler

Quotes, 1960 - 1970[edit]

  • It [the Mauve-district in the U.S.] relates to a theme which appears on-and-off, of pictures that often have one central vast shape, district, or territory; in this case, the shape itself [a square] is a play on the very shape of the canvas (quote in 1969).
    • Quote from 'The collection', MOMA, online [1]

'Interview with Henry Geldzahler', in 'Artforum', 1965[edit]

Quotes from: 'Interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Geldzahler; 'Artforum' 4. no. 2, October 1965
  • Total abstraction was something intellectual to me. I didn't feel it; I could talk about Mondrian but it didn't occur to me to do it. [around 1950]. I saw a Dubuffet show at Pierre Matisse [the son of Henri Matisse, running an art-gallery in New York then] in the late forties and came back with a new vocabulary. Also when Baziotes won the Carnegie (1948) there was a reproduction in 'The Times'. I remember bringing it to class. It was source of bewilderment, delineated configurations that seemed to come out of Cubism. It was something new. Those were the tastes of a whole dimension that was to come, much more abstract and allover and I didn't see much more of it until I came to New York. I would go to the old Guggenheim to look at Kandinsky. I liked the early abstractions but the later ones I didn't like at all..
    • p. 36
  • I still, when I judge my own pictures (either while I'm working or after I think it's finished) determine if they work in a certain kind of space through shape or color. I think all totally abstract pictures – the best ones that really come off – Newman, Pollock, Noland – have tremendous space; perspective space despite the emphasis on flat surface. For example, in Noland a band of yellow in relation to a band of blue and one of orange can move in depth although they are married to the surface. This has become a familiar explanation, but few people really see and feel it that way.. ..in my work, because of color and shape a lot is read in the landscape sense..
    • p. 37
  • Sometimes I think the worst thing is the current 'worldliness' of the whole [art] scene. It is the most deceptive, corrupting, transient thing, full of kicks and fun but so little to do with what it's all really about.. ..It has to do with our time, a desperate pact about the power of immediate-in-ness. But I feel less and less concerned with this as an issue. So what? No threat.
    • p. 38

'Interview with Barbara Rose', Archives - American Art, 1968[edit]

Quotes from: the interview of Helen Frankenthaler, 1968 with Barbara Rose, for the 'Archives of American Art', Smithsonian Institution
  • ..drawing, always all my learning had to do with drawing. And I never really thought about color at all. When I first started thinking about color it was sort of out of perversity. In other words, say around 1950 and '51, it occurred to me that something ugly or muddy could be a color as well as something clear and bright and a nameable, beautiful, known color.
    • quote about her years 1950-51 - reacting on the general view that her painting art was mainly focused on color and not on drawing / line
  • And I was painting and changing and developing and going through [c. 1950-52] that bridge from early Kandinsky and Gorky to my own [painting] thing. And just soaking up [Willem] de Kooning and [Jackson] Pollock.. .So I had the place to myself. And while Bill [= Willem] and Elaine [de Kooning] and Charlie [Egan] and such would maybe come to my studio, there was no thought,.. ..of my going in with those four or five young ones.
    • quote about her painting-years 1951-52
  • .. I wanted to live in this land [of the paintings of Jackson Pollock, Helen saw in 1951 for he first time on Polocks show in 1951]. Clem [her friend, those years], who has a great sense of timing .. ..as we got off the elevator he said, 'Now you're on your own. Just look around at the show and tell me what you think of it.' And I was suddenly blinded as if he had put me in the center ring of Madison Square Garden. And you're on your own. And there were those pictures like 'Number 1.', [1949], 'Number 14.', [1951].. ..And it was so new, and so appealing, and so puzzling, and powerful, and real, and beautiful, and bewildering. And then Clem and I went around the show together.. ..and we discussed which ones we liked better or worse than others. 'Number 14.' was one I always remember.. ..the painting hit me so much that I could never forget..
    • quote about Pollock's show, 1951
  • Anyway, [in] the 'Number 14.' picture.. was that I saw very clearly the drawing of something like an animal or a fox, in a wood in the center of it, which if we had a reproduction I could point to. That was a game which I used to play as a child.. ..there was a rabbit and there was a, you know, and all that.. ..It was more than just the drawing, webbing, weaving, dripping of a stick held in enamel, more than just the rhythm. It seemed to have much more complication and order of a kind that at that time I responded to. Something maybe more baroque, more drawn and with some elements of realism abstracted or Surrealism or a hint of it. In other words, you could certainly look at that picture and not see that at all. It is a totally abstract picture but it had that additional quality in it for me.. .. this one I particularly responded to.
    • quote about Pollock's painting 'Number 14', 1951
  • ..I think the thing that hit me most of all [at the Pollock-show, 1951] was that while I knew it was a fact, it became a physical necessity to get pictures off the easel, and therefore for me not even on a wall but the reach or fluidity of working from above down into a field [so: on the floor].. ..But it really registered [later] when I saw his [Pollock's] studio and he unrolled his paintings on the floor that he had painted them on. Now I was never drawn to the idea of a stick dipped in a huge can. One thing I have never liked is a drip, I mean ..it's a kind of boring accident to me, a drip. There are many accidents that are very rich that you use, but if you exploit a drip it's very boring and familiar to begin with. Drips are drips. Whereas blocks have never been drips, and haven't been, but, people don't know blocks the way they know drips. And blocks can become lines, and drips become lines in a very facile, easy way.
    • quote about Pollock's drip-painting, 1951
  • So I would say, blanket, from the time I was 17 until I was 20 [1945-48] when I graduated from Bennington [Art College] as far as painting went I had a depth analysis of what made Cubism work and its revolution, and all it opened up. And in history it was just the right moment to get it.. ..I did in my senior show two little pictures that are every bit as good, though I think ex post facto, nothing can be every bit as good ever - the way the best 'drip' Pollock made four years later than the best drip Pollock is not good -. But I could do Braque-s and Picasso-s that were angelic and completely understood, I mean really. I mean Paul [ [Paul Feeley ] really honored me and by that time it was a friendship, it wasn't a --. I mean our lives were in each other.
    • quote about her Bennington-years 1945-48
  • They came to town [to New York, 1952]--. Ken [Ken Noland] had known Clem [[[w:Clement Greenberg|Clem Greenberg]] and brought Morris Morris [Louis] to Clem and Clem told them about me, introduced us and they saw the 'Mountains and Sea' [1952 picture] [Helen just had painted]. And Ken was painting sort of traditional abstract rather heavy cuisine easel size pictures.. ..he was just determined that he was going to make it and had the feelings to do it. But when he saw 'Mountains and Sea' they really admired it, admired me, wondered at it, and were going to lick it. Darn it and lick it both. And I liked that. I mean, we had --. In those days with many people I think, because money and power were out in a certain sense, that they were real useful joys.. ..Where, you know, you made that and it's great, he says. Now I'm gonna run home and make one and show you, don't you love it? You know?
    • quote about her painting 'Mountains and Sea', 1952
  • And then [after the break with Clem [Greenberg], c. 1955] I investigated something which is related to what I talked about in 'Number 14', [of Jackson] Pollock, a side of me that --.. ..Well, I always use this word and I'm always dissatisfied with it because it's not what I mean at all, but a 'surreal' side. There are two words that are applied to me often that I think are very wrong but there aren't any other words that I can think of at the moment that would --. But one is 'lyrical' and the other is 'surreal'.. .. I understand what's meant when that word [lyrical] is used in relation to my pictures. And I don't think 'lyric' is a put down but 'lyric' never implies the profound enough.. ..In other words, 'lyric' can imply light, untouched, angelic, witty. Which are marvelous qualities. But 'light' can also imply simple, which is not a marvelous quality. I don't know..
    • quote about 'surreal' / 'lyrical', after 1955
  • I have a whole series of pictures that are, I mean in a sense, landscapes. Well, I wouldn't hold the landscape in front of me and translate it more abstractly into the painting, no. But I would - again in that American expedient thing you [Barbara Rose, earlier in the interview] were talking about - thinking ideas in my language. Sort of like today. 'Hm, bunch of roses', hm. 'Flags out the window', hm.. .. But once it got down on the surface I would say in 99 times out of a 100, out of 101, nobody would come along and say how come you put 'shoes' in a picture. I mean it would be too brown or too green.
    • quote about her way of 'abstraction'
  • I really learned how to look at art.. ..before 1960. And in a sense that sharpened my eye for abstract pictures. Because, it's light in the painting that makes it work. It's light in the painting that makes it work.
    • quote about the role of light
  • [..feel interested in] Things that are not overworked, that are in essence light. In other words, the great Cezannes that are not all filled in.. .. while I can recognize a master piece that is heavily painted or darkly painted or painted in layers as great and sublime, it would not be my choice to hang a - [inaudible] - for five years if I could instead perhaps have a Cezanne of the kind I just described. Or a certain kind of Matisse. Or one of those large Rubens sketches, where the first breath of feeling is the picture, rather than the labor and the gift.
    • quote about 'light' paintings
  • Well, I think it [painting] is a life measuring stick. And I'm concerned with being myself, getting to know more and more what that is, what is possible, and what the real meaning of beauty and development is. I'm concerned with development and growth. But I am in my everyday life. I hate to feel deadly. But that does not mean that repetition or experiment isn't in the total picture of growth and development. And I think that pace and place differently at different times for each person.
    • quote about her attitude
  • I admired [c. 1952-54] his [ Motherwell's] painting. But the rest of the painters I was involved with --. I mean I didn't know [Clyfford] Still either and therefore Still didn't come up in my life as much. But I liked to look at Still. And I went of course to all of his [Robert Motherwell's] shows. But Bill de Kooning and Jackson [Pollock] were all around all the time. And it wasn't just following a career and a gallery and a social scene then, and a party scene, and the peripheral part of it at all. And I knew Bob [Motherwell] not personally at all [till 1957-58].
    • quote about several contemporary artists
  • I think working on the floor [Helen started 1951-52] came from Pollock. In other words, the whole idea of all sides of pictures being possible, bottom, top, sides of the picture came from him. And the whole idea of the painting being in a sense choreographed came from him, and that once one made a move toward the canvas surface that there was a dialectic and the surface gave you an answer back, and you gave it an answer back. But that was a Pollock notion of --.. ..That your plans made accidents, demanded something else and then something else hinged on something else..
    • quote about influence of Pollock
  • I mixed [early 1950's] funny shades of colors and used them but I used them because they made the drawing in my picture move. It wasn't because I was in love with the idea of putting color down. But these colors were the expedient things to use for the way I drew and I say 'draw' not meaning line, though it might have included line. But the way I drew or envisioned or made my work. And it happened that it came out stressing color. But I did not have a vision or a notion about color per se being the thing that would make me or my pictures work or operate.
    • quote about shades and drawing
  • I think that for me any picture that works even if it is in the guise of pure color application, if it works, involved drawing. That is falt space on a flat surface. And for me, and I always say this, whether it's a Titian or a [Kenneth] Noland, the ones that come off work in that depth and the color perhaps it is divine and the thing that makes it work, but it is line color. If it doesn't work then it's decorative or dead or just applied colors on a surface. That's what wallpaper is. And that's the difference between the striped wallpaper and a great Noland.
    • quote about drawing in a picture

Quotes, 1970 - 1990[edit]

  • It was as if I suddenly went to a foreign country but didn't know the language, but had read enough and had a passionate interest, and was eager to live there, I wanted to live in this land; I had to live there, and master the language. [reacting on Pollock's 'Black and White' paintings show in 1951; Frankenthaler saw his painting art then for the first time in her life]
    • Quote from Abstract Expressionism, Barbara Hess, New York, Abrams, 1971, p. 29
  • Painting is very private and personal. There's an emotional content, but I'm more involved in the light and color and drawing of a painting. I don't set out to portray an emotion.
  • For me, being a 'lady painter' was never an issue. I don't resent being a female painter. I don't exploit it. I paint.
    • Quote from: John Gruen, in 'The Party's Over Now: Reminiscences of the fifties — New York's artists, writers, musicians, and their friends'; Viking Press, 1972 - ISBN 0-916366-54-5; as cited by by Grace Glueck, in 'New York Times', 2011
  • A really good picture looks as if it's happened at once. It's an immediate image. For my own work, when a picture looks labored and overworked, and you can read in it as well - she did this and then she did that; there is something in it that has not got to do with beautiful art to me. And I usually throw these out, though I think very often it takes ten of those over-labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it, and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute.
  • When I say gesture, my gesture, I mean what my mark is.. .It is a struggle for me to both discard and retain what is gestural and personal, Signature.. ..'Gesture' must appear out of necessity, not habit.
    • Quote from: 'An interview with Helen Frankenthaler', by Geldzahler, The New York school – the painters & sculptors of the fifties Irving Sandler, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978, p. 67
    • Frankenthaler explains the difference between gesture and signature in her painting

interview with Deborah Salomon in 'New York Times', 1989[edit]

Quotes from the interview with Helen Frankenthaler and Deborah Solomon, in the 'New York Times', 1989; from Page 006031 -The New York Times Archives
  • My life is square and bourgeois. I like calm and continuity. I think as a person I'm very controlling, and I'm afraid of big risks. I'm not a skier or a mountain climber or a motorcyclist. And I'm not a safari girl - I never want to go on a safari. My safaris are all on the studio floor. That's where I take my danger.
  • There are three subjects I don't like discussing. My former marriage, women artists, and what I think of my contemporaries.
  • 'I'm not a suffragette.. .Women, as a rule, tend to tidy up pictures that don't need tidying up. How many good women artists are there?
  • How many good male artists are there? The number of living artists I truly esteem I can put on one hand and I wouldn't even have to lift up all my fingers - and that breaks my heart.
  • I make pictures, I don't make shelters!
    • reacting on the idea of art-historian Dore Ashton of the 'colonizing emptiness' of her paintings
  • Color doesn't work unless it works in space. Color alone is just decoration - you might as well be making a shower curtain.
  • Sometimes I wish I had more people to relate to and refer to and talk to, but there are very few artists whose work I want to see. It all makes for a kind of loneliness.
  • He [ Rufino Tamayo, Mexican painter] showed me how to use my first paint box [and gesturing toward an old wooden palette displayed like a prize on the wall] That's my original palette!
  • We went around the room together, And he Clement Greenberg finally let me know that he thought my picture was the worst one in the show.. [she laughs] .At the same time he took my phone number.
    • Greenberg visited her early show early 1950, Frankenthaler was asked to organize a benefit show of paintings by Bennington alumnae
  • We [Helen and Clement Greenberg] went through the hill towns of Italy together, and we'd picnic in Perugia and argue about the Quattrocento painters and why this Simone Martini was better than that Simone Martini, or why this Sienese guy was better than that guy from Orvieto. I learned how to look at modern pictures because of Old Masters, and vice versa.
  • It [the drip-paintings of Jackson Pollock ] was original, and it was beautiful, and it was new, and it was saying the most that could be said in painting up to that point - and it really drew me in. I was in awe of it, and I wanted to get at why.
    • remembering November 1950, when Greenberg escorted her to a show of Pollock's work at the Betty Parsons Gallery
  • I find it hard living on my own, but I imagine I would find it difficult not living on my own. Perhaps I could still change my mind. That's everyone's drama. We all make different compromises. And, no, I don't regret not having children. Given my painting, children could have suffered. A mother must make her children come first: young children are helpless. Well, paintings are objects but they're also helpless.
    • In 1958 (three years after breaking up with Greenberg, Frankenthaler married Robert Motherwell; their marriage ended in 1971.
  • Every so often, every artist feels: 'I'll never paint again. The muse has gone out the window.' In 1985 I hardly painted at all for three months, and it was agonizing. I looked at reproductions. I stared at Matisse. I stared at the Old Masters. I stared at the Quattrocento. And I thought to myself - Don't push it! If you try too hard to get at something, you almost push it away.
  • What concerns me when I work, is not whether the picture is a landscape, or whether it's pastoral, or whether somebody will see a sunset in it. What concerns me is - did I make a beautiful picture?
  • Look.. ..the sky!. ..you can feel the weight of it. It's as if it were packed with snow.

Quotes, 1991 - 2011[edit]

  • I think today 'beautiful', which is always a tricky word, but now it's become an incendiary word, because in many ways today beauty is obsolete and not the main concern of art. And you can't prove beauty, it's there as a fact.. ..and you know it, and you feel it, and it's real. But you can't say to somebody.. this has it. I might be able to say it and others might recognize it. But it gives no specific message, other than itself, which in turn should be able to move you in to some sort of truth and insight, and something beyond art. I mean initially it's pleasure that grows. But it isn't just the shock of a message that you can have and dismiss. Once you've had it, it's over.
    • Quote in 1993 from: 'Helen Frankenthaler interviewed by Charlie Rose', April 12, 1993, at 40:02 [2]
  • The picture developed – bit by bit while I was working on it – into shapes symbolic of an exuberant figure and ladder.. ..therefore: 'Jacob's Ladder' [= the title of the painting she made in 1966].
    • Quote on the birth of a title of her art-work 'Jacob's Ladder'; from: MoMA Highlights, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published in 1999, p. 219 [3]
  • ..[from Pollock Helen took over] the concern with line, fluid line, calligraphy, and.. ..experiments with line not as line but as shape.
    • Quote from MoMA Highlights, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published in 1999, p. 219 [4]
  • After the first day there [In 1961, at the invitation of Tatyana Grosman, Frankenthaler ventured out to Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), Grosman's Long Island printmaking studio, and began making lithographs for the first time] I felt no hesitation. I was very committed. All I had to do was start work on that print. It was a whole new road - and a very connected road.
    • Quote from Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Deborah Wye; The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 146 [5]
  • I had no desire to copy Pollock. I didn't want to take a stick and dip it in a can of enamel [paint]. I needed something more liquid, watery, thinner. All my life, I have been drawn to water and translucency. I love the water; I love to swim, to watch changing seascapes. One of my favorite childhood games was to fill a sink with water and punt nail polish into to see what happened when the colors burst up the surface, merging into each other as floating, changing shapes.
    • Quote from Abstract Expressionism, Barbara Hess, Taschen, Köln, 2006, p. 80
  • I painted 'Mountains and Sea' [in 1952] after seeing the cliffs of Nova Scotia. It's a hilly landscape with wild surf rolling against the rocks. Though it was painted in a windowless loft, the memory of the landscape is in the painting, but it has also equal amounts of Cubism, Pollock, Kandinsky, Gorky.
    • Quote from Abstract Expressionism, Barbara Hess, Taschen, Köln, 2006, p. 80
    • Helen Frankenthaler comments her most famous painting 'Mountains and Sea' she painted in 1952.
  • I've explored a variety of directions and themes over the years. But I think in my painting you can see the signature of one artist, the work of one wrist.
    • Quote from Abstract Expressionism, Barbara Hess, Taschen Köln, 2006, p. 15
  • I have always been concerned with painting that simultaneously insists on a flat surface and then denies it.
    • Quote from 'The collection', MOMA, online 1
  • I frequently leave areas of raw, unprimed canvas unpainted [as in her painting 'Chairman of the Board', 1971].. ..That 'negative' space has just as active a role as the 'positive' painted space. The negative spaces maintain shapes of their own and are not empty.
    • Quote from 'The collection', MOMA, online 1

Quotes about Helen Frankenthaler[edit]

sorted chronologically, by date of the quotes about Helen Frankenthaler
  • We [ Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland ] were interested in Pollock but could gain no lead from him. He was too personal. But Frankenthaler showed us a way – a way to think about and use, color.
    • Quote of Kenneth Noland, c. 1954, as cited in Abstract Art, Anna Moszynska, Thames and Hudson 1990, p. 194
    • Noland is referring to their common visit in Frankenthaler's studio in 1953
  • Critics have not unanimously praised Ms. Frankenthaler's art. Some have seen it as thin in substance, uncontrolled in method, too sweet in color and too 'poetic.' But it has been far more apt to garner admirers like the critic Barbara Rose, who wrote in 1972 of Ms. Frankenthaler's gift for 'the freedom, spontaneity, openness and complexity of an image, not exclusively of the studio or the mind, but explicitly and intimately tied to nature and human emotions.'
    • Quote by Grace Glueck, in 'Helen Frankenthaler, Abstract Painter Who Shaped a Movement, Dies at 83', in 'The New York Times', Retrieved, 27 December, 2011
  • Greenberg didn't like Frankenthaler's painting, but he did ask her out for a drink [c. 1950-51], and for the next five years, the pair underwent what she [Helen] described to me as 'a painting bath'. They went to every exhibition in town, from Pollock to Sir Alfred Munnings, the English horse painter (and an enemy of modernism). They'd get the catalogues to each show, and grade the paintings in them. [Helen: 'One check meant we liked it. Two checks was pretty good. Three was wow!' And always a lot of talk, about what made one painting more successful than another. [Helen:] 'This seems the opposite of that lofty beautiful experience that art is supposed to be', she recalled. [Helen: 'Every painting is supposed to be a valid expression and interesting. But the truth is some work and some don't. That happens with all painters in every age'. Greenberg had a great 'eye'; he could tell a first-rate painting from a second-rate one, but Frankenthaler wanted to make paintings that worked, so she looked and looked, seeking to develop her own eye.

External links[edit]

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