Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928-2011),
acrylic on canvas, 104 ¾ x 124 1/8 in.; 266.07 x 315.28 cm
Museum purchase with funds from National Endowment for the Arts Museum Purchase Plan Grant and matching funds from Joslyn Women's Association, 1978.74
The lyrical, colorful abstractions of Frankenthaler descend from the open, gestural expressions of Jackson Pollock. Painting on unstretched, unprimed canvas laid on the floor, a method adopted from Pollock, enabled her to work from all sides. Frankenthaler flooded her canvases with thinned oils and acrylics that stained like a dye. By permeating the fabric with paint rather than layering it, she emphasized its flat surface and further accented the liquid nature of her medium. The result, in large, dramatic works like Monoscape, is atmospheric effects of shifting, fragile forms. Fluid shapes move freely across the canvas, flickering with light that seems to come from within.
Frankenthaler became fascinated with the spatial ambiguities of Cubism, which played the illusion of depth against the reality of the two-dimensional plane of the canvas. In her landscapes she sought to achieve these same spatial paradoxes without using a grid to structure her paintings as the cubists had done. Her large, cropped paintings have an environmental quality that implies a continuation of the picture into the viewer's space. For Frankenthaler, an intuitive painter, the emotional quality of the gesture and references to the natural forms of the landscape superseded any emphasis on the literal qualities of the materials.