In Celebration of Women Artists: Spotlight on Helen Frankenthaler

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we hope you enjoy this print in our collection. If you visit the museum, it is on view in the lobby gallery.

Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928–2011)
Barcelona, 1977
Lithograph on HMP handmade paper
41″ H x 32″ W  
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts  
Museum purchase, A1965,78.0307

In Barcelona, a field of richly layered colors (shades of green contrasted with blue, red, and yellow) seem to jostle each other for prominence. At the same time, vertical strokes in primary colors stabilize the composition’s dominant, earthy greens. One of several prints she created from nine colors in a workshop at the Ediciones Poligrafa, SA (Barcelona, Spain), Helen Frankenthaler suggested the evening bustle of the city. Here, the artist created a print that conveys the spontaneity of her paintings and achieves a similar transparency and brilliancy of color. Earlier, Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock had revolutionized art making with Action Painting, a process in which he laid a large canvas on the floor and hurled or dripped paint onto it to create a record of his activity. Taking his process a step further, Frankenthaler encouraged paint or ink to go where it would when she applied it to unprimed canvases or the matrices for her prints. Posed against and within airy, seemingly fluid spaces, the resulting works reference the natural world, not unlike those found in Barcelona.

Often referred to as a Color Field artist, Frankenthaler explored the possibilities of sheer color and its unpredictable relationships, inspiring artists such as Kenneth Noland, Sam Gilliam, and Morris Louis to follow her lead. She studied at the Dalton School, New York, under muralist Rufino Tamayo and also at Bennington College, VT, with Paul Feeley. Later, she received private instruction from Hans Hoffman, a pioneer in abstract painting who influenced her work. Frankenthaler was championed by famed art critic Clement Greenberg (with whom she had a five-year relationship and who facilitated her study with Hoffman) and was married to Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell (whose work is also represented in the museum’s collection).