Helen Frankenthaler – Paper is Painting

Frankenthaler, H., 2010. Paper is Painting. 1st ed. London, Great Britain: Bernard Jacobson Gallery.

This exhibition catalogue has a good introduction to Helen’s work, which seems to be about simplifying pictures down to marks that can still create a reaction in the observer while not being totally recognisable, as abstract expressionism.

Helen utilises accidents in the paint, she owns them and you aren’t aware what is planned or accidental.

Uses colour as an emanating  light, like Paul Cezanne’s later watercolours (which seem to be about less is more).

I will admit that I have issues with abstract expressionism. they fill a space on the wall, but generally don’t draw me towards them. I like to be drawn into a narative that is more obvious. My personal exception is Rothko, the room at the Tate Modern, it is a reverential space designed to display the huge pictures at their best and it succeeds because of their size and the deadening impact they have on sound within the space.

Helens work seems to be the light fluffy version of this, she played with thinned paint soaking into the support, pooled watered down acrylics on flat sheets of paper then played with the paint as it dried, but overwhelmingly it seems to be lighter paler colours that are largely inoffensive. Take Untitled 1994, acrylic on paper, a 105.4X74.9cm a swathe of swimming pool blue washed over most of the paper, drying darker in some areas  rather than the same tint overall.

My Tutor suggested I look at Helens work in reference to potentially making my work more unfinished, there is certainly less to see in Helen’s work. I spent some time with a bunch of daffodils, (something that would be in my home as a seasonal item) and my response started with more finished images than it ended.

The question of how much information we need in the image to illicit a response from the audience is interesting. A full blown picture of a bunch of flowers gets questions like who are they for? or who are they from. The colour pages without line can get an emotional response based on personal likes and dislikes of colour and possibly a seasonal nod because there are certain colours we associate with those times of the year. But I’m not convinced there is enough to draw a conclusion to looking at a piece of work.

Linking this to Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, looking at the casket, or box or tin as objects “that may be opened” and actually starting that process

The picture on the left asks whats in the box that we can’t see, the picture on the right draws me to the black space with a straight edge like gravity. it seems to be a shadow at the bottom of a flower bed, it is asking what it is though in a way the daffodil colours didn’t and the absence of anything below it means there isn’t anything to to inform or suggest  whats within the shadow.

A problem I have with Helens work is that the titles don’t give a hint either. I get a response to the work, I admire the depth of colour, take page 35 Untitled 1994 as an example, Acrylic on paper with a deep teal getting thinner till it meets orange with heavy orange dribbles suggesting lines and what seems like a block printing the orange over the teal in places to suggest regular form in an opaque overlay. the bottom of the sheet is un-painted paper and this continues up around the left side. there is grey dribbled in a line at the top although this is barely visible. the picture is reminiscent of a storm over the horizon, I like it because I can put that image onto the painting though.




6 thoughts on “Helen Frankenthaler – Paper is Painting”

  1. It seems that there is a real sense in which the lines between ‘form’ and ‘impression of form’ are blurred. This was very interesting! The last of the flower pictures would seem to be obviously a flower picture if I’d (as I had) known it was. The form of a picture seems to bring us from feeling to understanding. I like your work!


      1. A pleasure. I don’t have any training in the field of art, my degree was in philosophy though, so I find representation fascinating. Do you think we can cut a clear line between the two?


      2. No, because an understanding of the picture an artist makes is an understanding of its place in history and who/how it is viewed. Art isn’t a field out on its own its interlinked to many others.


      3. My misunderstanding, I’ve spent the day reading about Plato, beauty and art. The thin line between form and impression of, is difficult to find. Should the title inform the viewer of the picture contents then?


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