Abstract Artist Helen Frankenthaler Dies Age 83
by JOEL ROSE
Gordon Parks / Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
At a time when the art world was still dominated by men, Helen Frankenthaler’s abstract canvasses earned the respect of critics and influenced generations of artists. One of the major abstract expressionist painters of the 20th century, Frankenthaler died Tuesday at her home in Connecticut. She was 83 years old.
In the early 1950s, Frankenthaler started painting with her canvasses flat on the floor after seeing Jackson Pollock do it. She liked the gesture and the attitude of working on the floor, she told NPR in 1988, “but I wanted to work with shapes in a very different way.”
Frankenthaler developed her own technique of pouring diluted paint directly onto canvas, then manipulating it with mops and sponges to create vivid fields of color.
“What evolved for me had to do with pouring paint and staining paint,” Frankenthaler explained. “It’s a kind of marrying the paint into the woof and weave of the canvas itself, so that they become one and the same.”
Starting with the 1952 masterpiece Mountains and Sea,Frankenthaler produced a body of work that was a major influence on the painters of the 1960s and beyond.
“She really helped pull art out of the angst and trauma of the abstract expressionists, the wartime generation, and into a lighter, more lyrical kind of modernism,” says Betsy Broun, who directs the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. “I think it was a relief, a liberation.”
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