Helen Frankenthaler in the studio at Tyler Graphics Ltd., Bedford Village, New York, 1977
Gift of Kenneth Tyler 2002
Photographer: Lindsay GREEN

Helen Frankenthaler was born in New York in 1928. She studied at The Dalton School, New York under the Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo and at Bennington College, Vermont, under the American cubist Paul Feeley. In 1950 Frankenthaler met the critic Clement Greenberg and began mixing with the artists of the New York School, including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. As a much younger artist, she emerged as one of the ‘second generation’ of Abstract Expressionists.

At the age of 23, Frankenthaler found her individual style with the large oil painting Mountains and sea. Frankenthaler placed the canvas on the floor, thinned her oil paint with turpentine and painted with the diluted wash in a technique she called ‘soak-stain’. The ‘soak-stain’ technique was a radical departure from her earlier work and had an immediate impact on many artists, including Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland who successfully adopted the technique for their Color Field paintings.

Frankenthaler describes her method of painting as ‘a fighting, loving dialogue with this piece of material. You force something on it and it gives you an answer back … until you know that this is right’. As we can see in her work, her finely tuned skills allow for both control and spontaneity.

Jaklyn Babington

Further reading
Further information will be added to this site as the National Gallery proceeds with its research and documentation.

Last updated January 2017