© Helen Frankenthaler Foundation Inc. / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

For Hiroshige, 1981

Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011, USA)

Medium: Acrylic on canvas
Dimensions: 158.8 x 222.7 cm

about the work

An area of white paint, splashes of yellow and ochre, a greenish brown foreground and a red, washed out streak – this is how Helen Frankenthaler’s work could be described at first glance. On closer inspection, however, the special character of this artwork is revealed. Each individual area of colour has its own dynamic energy, the colour transitions appear to be fluid. Frankenthaler achieves this effect with the aid of her unique soaked stain technique, in which she pours the paint diluted with turpentine onto the untreated canvas. In some places, the paint is absorbed deep into the canvas itself, in others it runs and fades as a result.

With its title For Hiroshige the artist pays tribute to the Japanese coloured woodcuts of Utagawa Hiroshige, whose works she collected. Hiroshige’s woodcuts depict urban life as well as impressive landscapes, which were acknowledged by many European and American artists. For Frankenthaler, nature was also a major source of inspiration. With her frequent travel to and contacts with other artists, this young woman created an international network in the art scene of the 1950s. That she studied with Meyer Schapiro and Hans Hofmann, had a longstanding relationship with the art critic Clement Greenberg and shared a studio with artists such as Friedel Dzubas and subsequently Robert Motherwell, who became her first husband, are just some of the details that reflect Frankenthaler’s network. The artist established herself in the male-dominated art scene of New York in the 1950s without addressing the roles of the sexes in her works through her innovative technique and the unique quality of her imagery and occupies an important position in the New York School and abstract expressionism.

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