An American Abstract Expressionist painter, Helen Frankenthaler was born December 12, 1928 in New York City, New York as the youngest child of a New York Supreme Court justice. She attended private schools in New York City, then went to Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, where she studied under Hans Hofmann at the Art Students' League. From 1958 to 1971, she was married to the Abstract Expressionist painter Robert Motherwell.
Although greatly influenced by Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky and others, she soon developed her own approach to painting. She treated each painting as a new work that had its own unique requirements. She started experimenting with stain painting, where an unstretched and unprimed canvas lying on the floor would be treated with heavily diluted oilt-based paints to be soaked directly into the fabric. She created silky pools of color that, although abstract, evoked images of landscapes. As Whitney Chadwick said of Frankenthaler, "She was not the first artist to stain canvases but she was the firsy to develop a complete formal vocabulary from the technique." Her techniques influenced other artists, especially Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis.
Frankenthaler is significant to the 1950s because of her contributions to Abstract Expressionism. As the name suggests, this form of art is important in any understanding of the Fifties because it combines abstraction and expressionism. Expressionism itself emphasizes the emotional responses from both the artist and the viewer. The voices of a new America as heard in authors such as Jack Keroauc and Allen Ginsberg are seen in artists such as Frankenthaler. It is also important that Frankenthaler, as a woman, steps beyond the traditional gender roles. Helen Frankenthaler is nonconformist both in her art and life.
-Aimee Lanoue (Heller, Nancy G. Women Artists: An Illustrated History. Abbeville Press, 1991.)
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