This past September, the Blanton Museum of Art opened up Without Limits: Helen Frankenthaler, Abstraction, and the Language of Print. The show, a generous gift by the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, will stay open until February 20, 2022. It is an experience both Austinites and tourists should put on their must-do list when visiting the Texas city.
Painter Helen Frankenthaler
Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) is recognized as one of the greatest American artists known for Color Field painting. The term Color Field applies to works by abstract painters working in the 1950s and 1960s characterized by large areas of a more or less flat single color. During her career, Frankenthaler invented a new technique known as “soak-stain,” which expanded the possibilities of abstract painting.
She was born and raised in New York City. Frankenthaler attended the Dalton School, where she received her earliest art instruction from Rufino Tamayo. In 1949 she graduated from Bennington College, Vermont, where she was a student of Paul Feeley. She later studied briefly with Hans Hofmann.
Her exhibition career began in 1950 when Adolph Gottlieb selected her painting Beach for his exhibition titled Fifteen Unknowns: Selected by Artists of the Kootz Gallery. Frankenthaler then had her first solo exhibition in 1951 at New York’s Tibor de Nagy gallery.
In 1952, she created her famous painting Mountains and Sea using the soak-stain technique. Frankenthaler poured thinned paint directly onto a raw, unprimed canvas laid on the studio floor, working from all sides to create floating fields of translucent color. Mountains and Sea was immediately influential for the artists who formed the Color Field school of painting, notably Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland.
By 1960, Frankenthaler was able to have her first major museum show at New York’s Jewish Museum and her second (in 1969) at the Whitney Museum of American Art. An international tour followed. Frankenthaler continued to experiment with new art throughout her career, and her work is found in major museums worldwide.
Without Limits Exhibit
“Without Limits” consists of ten prints and six proofs that span five decades of the artist’s career. Visitors can check out Frankenthaler’s work independently or see it with a designated guide. I chose to go on a tour, which was super fun and eye-opening.
Frankenthaler’s prints are indeed abstract and extremely colorful, especially in real life (much better than on a computer screen). What I loved most about being with a guide was hearing how the artist created each of her works.
My favorite print had to be Guadalupe, 1989 (see below). Visitors will find themselves drawn to it as it’s the largest work on display. The scope of the painting meant several other hands had to assist Frankenthaler as she poured watercolor across the strips of paper and the canvas. What impressed me most is Guadalupe, 1989 has an almost 3D feel to it, which Frankenthaler accomplished through melting wax on paper and then spilling orange watercolor paint over it. The color choice for the print is very captivating.
Frankenthaler also made ceramics and steel sculptures, in addition to her paintings, and she maintained an extensive printmaking practice. I encourage you to visit any Frankenthaler exhibit when possible, as you’ll undoubtedly appreciate this fantastic and significant artist.
Helen Frankenthaler Foundation
The Blanton Museum of Art
Written by Yohana Franco
Images provided by the Blanton Museum of Art
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