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.


  • 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—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. 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.

  • 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…
    • 'Interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Henry Geldzahler; Artforum 4. no. 2, October 1965, p. 37

  • ...I’ve been touched, in the work of Miró and Pollock, by a Surrealist – by Surrealist I mean ‘associative’ – quality. It’s what comes through in association after your eye has experienced the surface as a great picture; it is incidental but can be enriching. Gorky too has affected me this way, but in Gorky, though it fascinated me, it often got in my way. I was too much aware of, let’s say, what read as sex organs arranged in a room… …I leave it (the ‘associative’ element, ed.) out of my own pictures more and more as I become increasingly involved with colors and shapes. But it is still there.
    • 'Interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Henry Geldzahler; Artforum 4. no. 2, October 1965, pp. 37-38

  • 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… …and master the language. (reacting on Pollocks 'Black and White'’ paintings show she saw in 1951 for the first time ed.)
    • "Abstract Expressionism", Barbara Hess, New York, Abrams, 1971, p. 29

  • I had no desire to copy Pollock. I didn’t want to take a stick and dip it in a can of enamel (paint, ed.) 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’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, fh… …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

  • 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 [1]

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