Thursday 7 July 2011

Helen Frankenthaler - part 2

This is part two of two-part post on the works of Helen Frankenthaler. For more works and biographical information, see part one below. This second part includes some of Frankenthaler's prints, a medium she took up relatively late.

Painting was Frankenthaler’s primary artistic passion, but an obsession to push her creative limits led her to turn her attention to print media. Frankenthaler created her first prints in 1961 with Tatyana Grosman at Universal Limited Art Editions in West Islip, Long Island. It was in this intimate lithographic workshop, where artists were treated as personal guests and for whom Grosman would go to any lengths to facilitate artistic needs, that Frankenthaler began to experiment with print media.

While Frankenthaler created her first woodcuts at ULAE it was not until 1976, when she commenced collaboration with master printer Kenneth Tyler, that she began a sustained investigation of the woodcut medium. Frankenthaler’s first woodcut with Tyler was Essence mulberry, produced in 1977.

1977 Essence mulberry 

Essence mulberry is seen today as a watershed, the first of Frankenthaler’s woodcuts to employ the traditionally graphic medium in the production of an image of abstracted and inspired beauty.
In the thirty-plus years that have passed since the creation of Essence mulberry Frankenthaler has worked with Tyler Graphics in a collaboration that has dramatically shifted the parameters of the woodcut. Frankenthaler’s experimental nature drove her to use paper pulp as a support for her woodcut Freefall in 1993 and hand-dyed paper for Radius, 1993. The artist experimented with the combination of woodcut and other print techniques such as lithography in All about blue, 1994 and etching and aquatint in Ariel, 1996.

Kenneth Tyler has recalled that with the Tales of Genji, a series of six woodcut prints that Frankenthaler began in 1995, ‘It was apparent from the beginning that what was needed was a new approach and technique for making what Helen strove for: a woodcut with painterly resonance.’ With this in mind, Tyler suggested to Frankenthaler that she could communicate to the workshop of printers and more importantly, remain true to her unique style by painting her ideas for the printed works onto pieces of wood.

Supplied with wood, paint and brushes, Frankenthaler worked alone in the artist’s studio at Tyler Graphics painting the maquettes for the Tales of Genji. From the painted studies, tracings were made and woodblocks were carved by the ukiyo-e trained Japanese carver, Yasuyuki Shibata. The watery nature of Frankenthaler’s paintings created an immediate problem for printing. In order to create the lush transparent washes of colour, the printers had to work quickly with wet sheets of paper that, under the pressure of the printing press, would force the inks to bleed and blend into one another. Through trial and error and laborious proofing sessions, the workshop gradually overcame these technical difficulties.

In Madame Butterfly, 2000, we see Frankenthaler’s impulsive soak-stain painting technique realised in the most graphic of print media. The ‘spontaneous print’ that Frankenthaler has pursued throughout her print career has finally been achieved. Not only has she managed to push beyond everything that she had previously created in the woodcut medium, but technically, the work has moved into territory that shows the Tyler Graphics workshop at its finest. Madame Butterfly is a virtuoso display of 102 colours, printed from forty-six woodblocks, in a work spanning three panels of paper and measuring over two metres in length.

2000 Madame Butterfly
One of the 46 woodblocks used to create Madame Butterfly

Once again, the artist communicated her ideas to the technicians of the print workshop by painting on three pieces of specially selected wood. Paper was skilfully handmade by Tyler Graphics to resemble both the texture and look of the wood grain. The woodblocks used to print the image were carved by Frankenthaler and Yasuyuki Shibata. Frankenthaler marked the wood using her ‘guzzying’ technique, a technique involving scratching the wood with items including sandpaper and dental tools. Frankenthaler was determined to ensure that her wrist, and thus her unique sensibility, be evident in every aspect of the print’s creation, just as it is in her paintings.

1987 Yellow Jack 

1987-8 Plaze Real No 13/60 

1988 High Spirits

1992 Black Frame #1 

1993 Freefall 

1993 Radius 

1994 Untitled 

1994 All about blue 

1995 Adobe 

1995 Reflections IX 

1995 Russet 

1996 Ariel 
etching and aquatint

1998 Tales of Genji I 

1998 Tales of Genji II 

1998 Tales of Genji III 

2000 Grey Fireworks 

2002 Contentment Island 

2004 Snow Pines 

2005 Southern Exposure 

2009 Aerie 

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Helen Frankenthaler - part 1

This is part one of a two-part post on the works of Helen Frankenthaler, abstract expressionist painter, and one-time wife of Robert Motherwell. Frankenthaler was born in New York in 1928. In 1945 she graduated from the Dalton School, where she studied with the Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo. She later studied with Paul Feeley at Bennington College in Vermont, where she absorbed the visual language of Cubism and the formal structures of Old Master painting. After graduating in 1949, and having received a substantial inheritance, she studied privately with Hans Hofmann in 1950 in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and then returned to New York to paint full-time. Later that year while organising an exhibition at the Jacques Seligmann gallery, she met Clement Greenberg, through whom she would meet some of the central figures of the New York School, including Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, and David Smith.

An exponent of Abstract Expressionism, Frankenthaler was focused on analysing and reproducing natural forms, as is apparent in Mountains and Sea (1952). Measuring approximately 3 metres wide and 2 metres high, Mountains and Sea matches the ambitious scale and gestural handling associated with the New York School, but Frankenthaler's method of paint application was markedly original: she thinned the oil paint to the consistency of watercolour so that it would soak into and stain the canvas rather than accumulate on its surface.

1952 Mountains and Sea 
Inspired by Pollock's drip style, her soak-in technique resulted in fresh, appealing expanses of colour that spurred similar experiments by Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis (whom Greenberg took to Frankenthaler's studio in 1953) and prefigured Colour Field painting of the later 1950s and 1960s by Louis, Noland, Jules Olitski, and Frankenthaler herself.

In 1958 Frankenthaler married Robert Motherwell. At about the same time she began experimenting with the relationship between fine lines and small, sun-like shapes. In the early 1960s she started producing paintings featuring a single stain or blot; she also began to use acrylic paint to create richly coloured canvases, such as Cape (Provincetown) (1964).

1964 Cape, Provincetown

Frankenthaler and Motherwell divorced in 1971, and several years later she bought a second home and studio in Connecticut, where she ventured into the production of welded-steel sculptures, prints, and illustrated books. Further experiments with other mediums led her to design the sets and costumes for a production by England's Royal Ballet in 1985. Frankenthaler continued to focus on painting throughout this period, and maintains her painting practice to the present day.

Frankenthaler has taught at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and New York universities. Her first solo exhibition took place at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, in the autumn of 1951. Numerous solo exhibitions of her work have followed, including retrospectives at the Jewish Museum, New York (1960); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1969); Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (1980); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1985); and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1989).

Her many awards include First Prize for Painting at the first Paris Biennial (1959); Joseph E. Temple Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia (1968); New York City Mayor's Award of Honor for Arts and Culture (1986); and Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement, College Art Association (1994). Frankenthaler lives and works in New York and Darien, Connecticut.

1958 Before the Caves

1961 Summerscene, Provincetown

1963 Blue Atmosphere

1964 Interior Landscape

1964 Magic Carpet

1967-70 Connected by Joy 
etching and aquatint

1971 Spanning

1972 Green Nest

1974 Robinson's Wrap 

1976 Desert Pass

1979 Viewpoint II

1981 A Green Thought in a Green Shade

1984 Covent Garden Study 

1984 Quattrocento 


1987 Broome Street at Night 
etching and aquatint

1987 Seeing the Moon on a Hot Summer Day 

Sunday 3 July 2011

James McNeill Whistler - part 2

Portrait of Whistler in 1885 by William Merritt Chase

This is part two of a two-part post on the work of James McNiell Whistler, showing more of his paintings. For biographical and background information on Whistler, see part 1 also.

1872c Arrangement in Grey: Portrait of the Painter

1875 Maud Franklin

1879-80 Nocturne in Blue and Silver: The Lagoon, Venice

1879-80 Nocturne: Blue and Gold - St Marks, Venice

1883-4 Arrangement in Flesh Colour and Black: Portrait of Theodore Duret

1883-4 Arrangement in Pink: Red and Purple

1885 Blue and Violet: La Belle de Jour

1885 Harmony in Fawn Colour and Purple: Portrait of Miss Milly Finch

1885 London Bridge

1890 The Rose Drapery 
chalk and watercolour

1895 The Little Rose of Lyme Regis

1895-1900c Brown and Gold (self-portrait)

1897 Miss Rosalind Birnie Philip Standing

1900 Nude Model Reclining 

1864-71c Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses

1864 Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen

1898 Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Little Blue Girl

1871-2c Nocturne in Blue and Silver

1876 Nocturne in Grey and Gold: Snow in Chelsea

1865c Variations in Flesh and Green: The Balcony

1865 White and Grey: The Hotel Courtyard, Dieppe