Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Helen Frankenthaler

Trespass, Helen Frankenthaler, 1974
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is offering a film program about women artists in conjunction with its exhibition of the Beaver Hall Group. Recently two films were screened together, one about Georgia O'Keeffe and another on Helen Frankenthaler. Though I'm familiar with O'Keeffe, the work of Frankenthaler was a revelation to me.

Born into privilege in Manhattan in 1928, Frankenthaler began exhibiting her abstract expressionist paintings in the early 1950's. She is credited with inspiring a new movement, Color Field painting. One of her innovations was to work with very dilute pigment, first oil and later acrylics. When applied, these paints stained the canvas rather than lying on top of it, much as dye is absorbed by cloth. This allowed her to create very atmospheric effects.

For Hiroshige, Helen Frankenthaler, 1981
The best part of the film was showing the artist at work. What struck me about her process was how restrained she was in applying her paint to the canvas. Whether she made a broad stroke across an enormous canvas with a mop-like brush, or licked a dollop of thickened paint off with a single finger, she was always looking for an instance of beauty, of interest. She allowed the properties of the paint to make their own magic.

The Human Edge, Helen Frankenthaler, 1967
Said Frankenthaler,
"What concerns me when I work, is not whether the picture is a landscape, or whether it's pastoral, or whether somebody will see a sunset in it. What concerns me is - did I make a beautiful picture?"
Coming up in the film series are "Frida, Nature Vivant", "Finding Vivian Maier" and "Alice Neal". More information is available at the museum's "What's On" site.

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