20% OFF FRAMING for a limited time only

Helen Frankenthaler Artist Biography

Throughout her career, Helen Frankenthaler has won a number of awards and distinctions. The stain technique she made famous is still an integral part of her work and it can be seen running through her entire oeuvre. Although the paintings are abstract, a strong suggestion of landscape is often apparent, and they have been praised for their lyrical qualities.

Helen Frankenthaler was born in New York where she was to spend most of her life. She attended the Dalton School, where she received her earliest art instruction from Rufino Tamayo. In 1949, she graduated from Bennington College, where she was a student of Paul Feeley, following which she studied briefly with Hans Hofmann.

By 1950, Helen Frankenthaler had met many of the main figures of Abstract Expressionism. Her professional exhibition career began in 1950, when Adolph Gottlieb selected her painting Beach (1950) for inclusion in the exhibition titled Fifteen Unknowns: Selected by Artists of the Kootz Gallery. Her first solo exhibition was presented in 1951, at New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery, and she was also included that year in the landmark exhibition 9th St. Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture. Renowned art critic Clement Greenberg recognized her originality, and her work soon garnered growing international attention. 

Inspired by the 'all-over' style of painting made famous by Jackson Pollock, Frankenthaler produced 'Mountains and Sea' in 1952. In this, she developed Pollock's drip technique by pouring and running very thin paint onto canvases laid on the floor. According to the critic, Clement Greenberg, this painting was the “first monument of Post-Painterly Abstraction”; it is certainly one of the most important works in the 'Color-Field' style. The painters Morris Louis and Kenneth Nolan were deeply impressed by Frankenthaler and began to experiment with the techniques she was employing. Thereafter, Frankenthaler remained a defining force in the development of American painting.

By 1962, she changed from oil to acrylic painting allowing stronger colors and increased vibrancy, for example, 'Interior Landscape' (1964).

Since 1960, she also worked in ceramics and made aquatints, lithographs and woodcuts.  She collaborated with Kenneth E. Tyler.  The first piece they created together was Essence of Mulberry (1977), a woodcut that used eight different colours. 

In 1995, the pair collaborated again, creating The Tales of Genji, a series of six woodcut prints. Helen Frankenthaler then went on to create Madame Butterfly, a print that employed one hundred and two different colors and forty-six woodblocks. Madame Butterfly is seen as the ultimate translation of Helen Frankenthaler’s style into the medium of woodcuts, as it embodies her idea of creating an image that looks as if it happened all at once.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "Frankenthaler did take a highly public stance during the late 1980s "culture wars" that eventually led to deep budget cuts for the National Endowment for the Arts and a ban on grants to individual artists that still persists.

She died on 27th December, 2011 (aged 83) in Darien, Connecticut, United States.

Throughout her long career, Helen Frankenthaler experimented tirelessly, and, in addition to unique paintings on canvas and paper, she worked in a wide range of media, including ceramics, sculpture, tapestry, and especially printmaking. Hers was a significant voice in the mid-century “print renaissance” among American abstract painters, and she is particularly renowned for her woodcuts.

"There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about."

More art prints from Helen Frankenthaler

Spring Bank, 1974 By Helen Frankenthaler
Scroll To Top