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1928 – 2011

Helen Frankenthaler is an American post-painterly abstraction (aka Color Field) painter and printmaker. Born in New York City, her work is influenced by Jackson Pollock with whom she also was involved in the 1946-1960 Abstract Art Movement. She was the youngest daughter of a justice on the New York State Supreme Court. She studied at the Dalton School under Rufino Tamayo, with Paul Feeley (b 1910) at Bennington College in Vermont, privately with Wallace Harrison in 1949 and Hans Hofmann in 1950. In that year she met Clement Greenberg, David Smith, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning and others. She later married fellow artist Robert Motherwell.


Like several of the exponents of Abstract Expressionism, she was concerned with the forms and energies latent in nature. In the mythology of technical breakthrough that was part of the culture of the New York School, her work Mountains and Sea has an established place. Highly influenced by Jackson Pollock, she changed her entire method of painting after watching him lay his unstretched canvases on the floor. This revolutionary approach to painting appealed to Frankenthaler, and she has taken this process one step further. Extending Pollock’s method of painting on unprimed canvases on the floor, she allowed thinner pigments to soak directly into the canvas. This created a closer relationship between image and surface, the weave of the raw canvas being visible within the painted image. At the same time the visibility of the canvas beneath the painted surface negated the sense of illusion and depth. It was a device that called attention to both the material and the nature of the medium.


In 1960 the term Color Field Painting was used to describe the work of Frankenthaler. This style was characterized by large areas of a more or less flat single color. The Color Field artists set them selves apart from the Abstract Expressionists because they eliminated the emotional, mythic or the religious content and the highly personal and gestural and painterly application.

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