Helen Frankenthaler (born December 12, 1928) is an American post-painterly abstraction artist. Born in New York City, she was 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 and also at Bennington College in Vermont. She later married fellow artist Robert Motherwell.
Her career was launched in 1952 with the exhibition of Mountains and Sea. This painting is large - measuring seven feet by ten feet - and has the effect of a watercolor, though it is painted in oils. In it, she introduced the technique of painting directly on to an unprepared canvas so that the material absorbs the colors. She heavily diluted the oil paint with turpentine or kerosene so that the color would soak into the canvas. This technique, known as "soak stain" was adopted by other artists (notably Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland) and launched the second generation of the Color Field school of painting. This method would leave the canvas with a halo effect around each area to which the paint was applied.
One of her most important influences was Clement Greenberg, an important art and literary critic. Through Greenberg she was introduced to the New York art scene. Under his guidance she spent the summer of 1950 studying with Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), catalyst of the Abstract Expressionist movement.
The first Jackson Pollock show Frankenthaler saw was at the Betty Parson's Gallery in 1951. She had this to say about seeing Pollock's paintings Autumn Rhythm, Number 30, 1950 (1950), Number One (1950), and Lavender Mist:
"It was all there. I wanted to live in this land. I had to live there, and master the language."
In 1960 the term Color Field Painting was used to describe the work of Frankenthaler. This style was characterised 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.
Some of her thoughts on painting:
"A really good picture looks as if it's happened at once. It's an immediate image. For my own work, when a picture looks labored and overworked, and you can read in it—well, she did this and then she did that, and then she did that—there is something in it that has not got to do with beautiful art to me. And I usually throw these out, though I think very often it takes ten of those over-labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it, and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute." (In Barbara Rose, Frankenthaler (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1975, p. 85)