Sunday, October 21, 2012

Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Fankenthaler (1928-2011) was a New York based artist who entered the art world through her paintings, but today her prints rival her paintings and arguably surpass them. She was a part of the abstract expressionists in the 50s and 60s in New York. There is a major arch in Frankenthaler's prints. Her early prints battled with the process. She is quoted saying, "I was very suspicious and full of questions, and felt that printmaking did not hold for me as something that was part of my involvement in the avant-garde... And the whole idea of it: you put this down in black, and then you mix whatever color you want it in, and you can put down more than one color, and you do it in stages... I was used to doing things all at once, and I had to learn that printmaking cannot be done impatiently if its to be dome well" (quoted in Krens, 23)

Fist stone, 1961 Lithograph in 5 colors

Frankenthaler's usual spontaneous painterly way of working was difficult to translate into printmaking. To resolve this problem, she would make a mark through a stone or etching, proof it, cut it up and then fiddle with the different pieces until she found a composition she was happy with. I think her more interesting work emerged when she embraced the printmaking process. When she moved to working with woodcuts, it was impossible to compose prints in her cut and arrange method. Instead, she used a jigsaw to break up the block and began experimenting with composition in this manner.  

East and Beyond, 1973 woodcut in 8 colors

She increasingly balanced her work between experimental and laborious. She worked with the master printer Kenneth Tyler to create complicated and unique prints which moved away from the hard edges found in her jigsaw woodblocks.

In an essay about her printmaking experience she wrote, "I want to draw my own images, mix my own colors, approve of registration marks, select paper- all the considerations and reconsiderations. Assuming that those who work in the workshops are all artists at what they do, I can then entrust the actual duplicating process to other hands that possess-hopefully-their kind of magic. Sharing and participating to the end." Frankenthaler's words reveal her relationship with the printmaker, but also her hugely increased confidence in the medium, especially when compared to her earlier concerns and awkwardness handling the mark making and process. 

Freefall, 1993 woodcut and stencil

Madame Butterfly, 2000 woodcut in 102 colors

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