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Helen FRANKENTHALER Biography

Helen Frankenthaler is an American Abstract Expressionist. She attended Bennington College in Vermont and studied under Paul Feeley, who taught her pictorial composition. Upon graduation in 1950, she studied with expressionist artist Hans Hoffmann in New York City. When Frankenthaler was creating her painting, Mountains and Sea, she discovered a new approach to Jackson Pollock’s famous dip paintings. Instead of using enamel paints that dried on the surface, she used oil paints and turpentine to thin the paint, which soaked into the canvas. Her soak-stain technique created bold, fluid shapes across the canvas. In 1960, her work was described as Color Field painting, which referred to her use of a single color on a large area of the canvas. The style was adopted by other artists as Morris Louis, Robert Motherwell and Kenneth Noland. She once said, “A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once.” In 1964, she was chosen to be a part of the Post-Painterly Abstraction exhibition, which was curated by her friend and art critic, Clement Greenberg.

Frankenthaler‘s career spanned nearly six decades and had an ever-evolving style. She kept herself inspired through her existentialist search for the Sublime and was able to achieve her watercolor effect in her printmaking and woodcut techniques. In 2001, she received the National Medal of Arts, which is the highest honor an American artist can achieve for their accomplishments. 

Other awards include First Prize for Painting at the first Paris Biennial (1959); the Joseph E. Temple Gold Medal, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia (1968); New York City Mayor's Award of Honor for Arts and Culture (1986); and the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement, College Art Association (1994). The New-York based Helen Frankenthaler Foundation handles her estate and promotes her work.

Helen Frankenthaler’s work is featured in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the LACMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the MFA in Boston, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Tampa Museum of Art, the MoMA in New York, the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the San Francisco MoMA, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Related Categories: Post-Painterly Abstraction, Color Field Painting, Abstract Expressionism, Post-War American Art, Stains/Washes, Focus on Materials, Abstract Painting, Line, Form and Color, New York School, United States, Painting, Work on Paper.