Helen Frankenthaler

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Helen Frankenthaler (12 December 192828 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.


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).
    • "The collection", MOMA, online [1]

Interview with Helen Frankenthaler (1965)[edit]

'Interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Henry 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 who run 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, [Kenneth] 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

1970 - 2011[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; Frankenthaler saw Pollock's painting art in 1951 for the first time]
    • "Abstract Expressionism", Barbara Hess, New York, Abrams, 1971, p. 29
  • 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.
    • from : 'An interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Geldzahler, The New York school – the painters & sculptors of the fifties Irving Sandler, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978, p. 67
    • her quote explains the difference between gesture and signature in her painting
  • 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.
    • '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].
    • her quote on the birth of a title of the 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 she took over] the concern with line, fluid line, calligraphy, and.. ..experiments with line not as line but as shape.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • "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.

from: "Abstract Expressionism", Barbara Hess, Taschen, Köln, 2006, p. 80

    • quote of Helen Frankenthaler on 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.
    • "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.
    • "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.
    • "The collection", MOMA, online 1

Quotes about Helen Frankenthaler[edit]

  • We [ w: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 [around 1954, referring to their common visit in Frankenthaler’s studio in 1952]
    • In: "Abstract Art", Anna Moszynska, Thames and Hudson 1990, p. 194

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