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Imagining Landscapes: Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler at Gagosian

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

Gagosian brings together thirteen paintings from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, several of which have never been exhibited before, in a unique exhibition titled "Imagining Landscapes: Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, 1952–1976."

Helen Frankenthaler, Orange Hem, 1971, Acrylic and marker on canvas 108 x 81 inches
Helen Frankenthaler, Orange Hem, 1971, Acrylic and marker on canvas 108 x 81 inches
"I had the landscape in my arms when I painted it. I had it in my mind and shoulder and wrist." (Helen Frankenthaler)

Accurately described by Jonathan Jones from The Guardian "like a Rothko dancing wildly to jazz," this body of works reaffirms Frankenthaler's dexterity in cultivating a richness akin to "the volatility of the physical universe."

Helen Frankenthaler, Square Figure, 1971, Oil on sized, primed canvas 97 x 86 inches
Helen Frankenthaler, Square Figure, 1971, Oil on sized, primed canvas 97 x 86 inches

"A line, shapes, colour, spaces, all do one thing for and within themselves, and yet do something else, in relation to everything that is going on within the four sides [of the canvas]. A line is a line, but is [also] a colour. . . . It does this here, but that there. Although the canvas surface is flat, the space extends for miles. What a lie, what trickery - how beautiful is the very idea of painting." (Helen Frankenthaler)

Helen Frankenthaler, After Rubens, 1961, Oil and charcoal on unsized, unprimed canvas 93 x 73 inches
Helen Frankenthaler, After Rubens, 1961, Oil and charcoal on unsized, unprimed canvas 93 x 73 inches

One of the most influential artists of the mid-20th century, Frankenthaler's creations' inherent references to landscape shift between subtle and explicit are dominated by an extraordinary variety of colour and line, before and after her breakthrough development of the "soak-stain" painting technique which refers to pouring turpentine-thinned paint onto the canvas to produce luminous colour washes that seem to merge with the canvas and deny any illusion of three-dimensionality.

Helen Frankenthaler, Fable, 1961, Oil and charcoal on unsized, unprimed canvas 94 x 99 inches
Helen Frankenthaler, Fable, 1961, Oil and charcoal on unsized, unprimed canvas 94 x 99 inches

Four canvases from 1961 - Beach Scene, Square Figure, Fable, and After Rubens - show her attempts to simplify her drawing style to make it more calligraphic, without leaving landscape and figural behind.

Helen Frankenthaler, Cape Orange, 1964, Acrylic on canvas 120 x 72 inches
Helen Frankenthaler, Cape Orange, 1964, Acrylic on canvas 120 x 72 inches
Helen Frankenthaler, Beach Scene, 1961, Oil and crayon on unsized, unprimed canvas, 122 x 93 inches.
Helen Frankenthaler, Beach Scene (detail), 1961, Oil and crayon on unsized, unprimed canvas, 122 x 93 inches.

The way Narcissus, Yolk, and Sea Goddess invite interpretation of their somehow cloudy, aqueous forms hints at how Leonardo da Vinci advised painters to look at stained walls and see pictures of the natural world.

Helen Frankenthaler, Narcissus, 1963, Oil on unsized, unprimed canvas 91 x 70 inches
Helen Frankenthaler, Narcissus, 1963, Oil on unsized, unprimed canvas 91 x 70 inches.
Helen Frankenthaler, Sea Goddess, 1963, Oil on unsized, unprimed canvas 70 x 94 inches
Helen Frankenthaler, Sea Goddess, 1963, Oil on unsized, unprimed canvas 70 x 94 inches.

Frankenthaler was influenced by Abstract Expressionism, while her innovation gave rise to the Colour Field Painting movement, intensely promoted by the influential art critic Clement Greenberg as the American art's "next big thing." These airy compositions honoured the joys of pure colour by giving canvases a whole new look and feel.

Yolk, Sea Goddess, and Narcissus by
Yolk, Sea Goddess, and Narcissus by Helen Frankenthaler.

In her later creations, lines are replaced by juxtaposed areas of lush stained colour whose irregular borders evoke the boundaries of natural forms. And even as Color Field painting was recuperating purist abstraction, and Pop art explicit depictions, Frankenthaler didn't abandon her art of allusion.

Exhibition Cover Poster - Frankenthaler in her studio on East 83rd Street, 1974. photographed by Alexander Liberman/J Paul Getty Trust, LA
Exhibition Poster - Helen F. in her studio on East 83rd Street, 1974. photographed by Alexander Liberman/J Paul Getty Trust, LA

You can also see photos of the Gagosian exhibition here, on the @withinlondon Instagram account.

📆 Until September 18, 2021.

📍 Gagosian Gallery, 20 Grosvenor Hill, London

W1K 3QD

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