The American-born, Abstract Expressionist artist Helen Frankenthaler died on Tuesday. Today, she is a prominent figure within the Abstract Expressionist movement, but early in her career she was known as Mrs. Robert Motherwell. As a woman, it was not easy for Frankenthaler to achieve the status of her husband, a leader of the artistic movement in the 1950s. Most of the heroes of that generation of artists were men. It wasn’t until after the women’s movement in the 1970s that more critics and the public began to celebrate Frankenthaler’s work.
Art historians consider Frankenthaler to be from the second generation of the Abstract Expressionist movement. The first generation created works of art that expressed the self – spiritual, philosophical, sexual, conscious, and unconscious. The second generation of Abstract Expressionists was more interested in investigating the properties of the materials they were using. Frankenthaler and others from this second generation are referred to as Color Field painters.
Frankenthaler is best known for pouring thinned paint onto unprimed canvases, creating lyrical movement with fields of beautiful, soft colors. The paintings demonstrated how the colors move across the surface of the canvas and soak into the fabric. Her paintings are a study of the character and quality of this phenomenon—a study of painting itself as an event. You can see her pure enjoyment of this process on the surface of her paintings, which are free and open and filled with light.