Shifting Affluence and Influence

Titian Flaying of Marsyas 1570-1576

“…Hale’s biography captures the energy and colors of everyday Venetian life as brilliantly as a Canaletto painting. The author of a well-received guidebook to Venice, she locates La Serenissima at the center of a global network whose spirit suffused Titian’s palette. In the haunting “Flaying of Marsyas,” one of Titian’s visual poesie (poems) based on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” Apollo’s removal of the satyr’s skin reflected a harrowing development in Venice’s foreign affairs: the flaying of the military officer Marcantonio Bragadin by Turkish troops in 1571. Yet Titian was too subtle an artist to sacrifice beauty in the metaphorical depiction of a current event. Hale points out that his Apollo, holding his knife “as though it were a painter’s brush,” radiates a delicacy and innocence at odds with his gory task. Perhaps the otherwise unliterary Titian was evoking Dante, who begged, as Hale notes, Apollo to “enter my breast and breathe there as you did when you tore Marsyas from the sheath of his limbs.” This rare ability to fuse the political and the poetic explains why the European elite were so keen on commissioning a man who was, according to Hale, “the greatest portraitist of the Renaissance.” [Joseph Luzzi on Sheila Hale’s Titian: His Life]

Titian Rape of Europa 1562

“…the provenance of The Rape of Europa itself doubles as a convincing grand narrative of the shifting affluence and influence of the West. It was Spanish Habsburg dominance in the 16th century that allowed Philip II to annex the greatest Venetian painter of his time, in effect as “court artist in absentia”. As Spanish power waned, the picture passed to Bourbon France, and from there to a flourishing Victorian Britain and eventually the Boston of the Gilded Age. 
The idea of metamorphosis, too, is as useful for thinking about the history of the painting as it is for describing its source. The Rape of Europa has had a different status in each of the collections to which it has belonged, reflecting any period’s prevailing attitudes to Titian’s oeuvre even as it transformed them.” [Thomas Marks reviewing Charles FitzRoy’s book]

Titian Pietro Aretino 1537

“It is as impossible to keep untouched by what happens to your neighbours as to have a bright sky over your own house when it is stormy everywhere else. Spain did not directly dominate Venice, but the new fashions of life and thought inaugurated by her nearly universal triumph could not be kept out. Her victims, among whom the Italian scholars must be reckoned, flocked to Venice for shelter, persecuted by a rule that cherished the Inquisition. Now for the first time Venetian painters were brought in contact with men of letters. As they were already, fortunately for themselves, too well acquainted with the business of their own art to be taken in tow by learning or even by poetry, the relation of the man of letters to the painter became on the whole a stimulating and at any rate a profitable one, as in the instance of two of the greatest, where it took the form of a partnership for mutual advantage. It is not to our purpose to speak of Aretino’s gain, but Titian would scarcely have acquired such fame in his lifetime if that founder of modern journalism, Pietro Aretino, had not been at his side, eager to trumpet his praises and to advise him whom to court.” [Berenson on Titian]

Reflection of Philosophical Ideas

Giorgione La tempesta 1508

“Giorgione created a demand which other painters were forced to supply at the risk of finding no favour. The older painters accommodated themselves as best they could. One of them indeed, turning toward the new in a way that is full of singular charm, gave his later works all the beauty and softness of the first spring days in Italy. Upon hearing the title of one of Catena’s works in the National Gallery, “A Warrior Adoring the Infant Christ,” who could imagine what a treat the picture itself had in store for him? It is a fragrant summer landscape enjoyed by a few quiet people, one of whom, in armour, with the glamour of the Orient about him, kneels at the Virgin’s feet, while a romantic young page holds his horse’s bridle. I mention this picture in particular because it is so accessible, and so good an instance of the Giorgionesque way of treating a subject; not for the story, nor for the display of skill, nor for the obvious feeling, but for the lovely landscape, for the effects of light and colour, and for the sweetness of human relations. Giorgione’s altar-piece at Castelfranco is treated in precisely the same spirit, but with far more genius. [Berenson on Giorgione]

Giorgione The Three Philosophers 1508–1509

“The landscape was also being reinvented, largely through Giorgione’s example. For the first time, at least in the west, natural scenery was not just background but the main subject of painting (Chinese artists had adopted this approach at least 500 years previously). Dürer is one of the first to have dwelled in detail on the appearance of nature, but it was Giorgione who elevated it to a new level of meaning and art. In The Three Philosophers, a painting now in Vienna, the surroundings, and natural forms of rock and wood, seem to be a deliberate reflection of philosophical ideas – the opposition of light and dark, for example.” [John-Paul Stonard on Giorgione]

Giorgione Young Woman “Laura” 1506

The young painters had no chance at all unless they undertook at once to furnish pictures in Giorgione’s style. But before we can appreciate all that the younger men were called upon to do, we must turn to the consideration of that most wonderful product of the Renaissance and of the painter’s craft—the Portrait….
But Giorgione and his immediate followers painted men and women whose very look leads one to think of sympathetic friends, people whose features are pleasantly rounded, whose raiment seems soft to touch, whose surroundings call up the memory of sweet landscapes and refreshing breezes. In fact, in these portraits the least apparent object was the likeness, the real purpose being to please the eye and to turn the mind toward pleasant themes. This no doubt helps to account for the great popularity of portraits in Venice during the sixteenth century. Their number, as we shall see, only grows larger as the century advances.” [Berenson on Giorgione]

Just the Right Side of Insolent

Veronese Allegory of Love Happy Union 1575

“Under the circumstances, Veronese was remarkably cool. Indeed, some of his replies seem just the right side of insolent. “In this Supper” the inquisitor asked, “what is the significance of the man whose nose is bleeding?” Veronese replied, deadpan, that this man was “a servant whose nose was bleeding because of some accident.” 
Then he was asked, not unreasonably, about a “man dressed as a buffoon with a parrot on his wrist”. How had this flamboyant character got mixed up in the Last Supper? Veronese laconically explained that he had put him in, “for ornament, as is customary”.
…The tribunal ordered Veronese to change the picture at his own expense or face worse penalties. 
But in the end, he just altered the title from the Last Supper into the Feast at the House of Levi. One biblical meal was obviously much the same as another to the artist (he was startlingly vague about the difference between them in his answers).”[The story of Veronese’s brush with the inquisition by Martin Gayford]

Veronese The Choice Between Virtue and Vice 1565

“Paolo was the product of four or five generations of Veronese painters, the first two or three of which had spoken the language of the whole mass of the people in a way that few other artists had ever done. Consequently, in the early Renaissance, there were no painters in the North of Italy, and few even in Florence, who were not touched by the
influence of the Veronese. But Paolo’s own immediate predecessors were no longer able to speak she language of the whole mass of the people. There was one class they left out entirely, the class to whom Titian and Tintoretto appealed so strongly, the class that ruled, and that thought in the new way. Verona, being a dependency of Venice, did no ruling, and certainly not at all so much thinking as Venice, and life there continued healthful, simple, unconscious, untroubled by the approaching storm in the world’s feelings. But although thought and feeling may be slow in invading a town, fashion comes there quickly. Spanish fashions in dress, and Spanish ceremonial in manners, reached Verona soon enough, and in Paolo Caliari we find all these fashions reflected, [as well as] health, simplicity, and unconsciousness as well. This combination of seemingly opposite qualities forms his great charm for us today, and it must have proved as great an attraction to many of the Venetians of his own time, for they were already far enough removed from simplicity to appreciate to the full his singularly happy combination of ceremony and splendor with an almost childlike naturalness
of feeling. Perhaps among his strongest admirers were the very men who most appreciated Titian’s distinction and Tintoretto’s poetry. But it is curious to note that Paolo’s chief employers were the monasteries. His cheerfulness, and his frank and joyous worldliness, the qualities, in short, which we find in his huge pictures of feasts, seem to have been particularly welcome to those who were expected to make their meat and drink of the very opposite qualities. This is no small comment on the times, and shows how thorough had been the permeation of the spirit of the Renaissance when even the religious orders gave up their pretense to asceticism and piety. [Berenson on Veronese]

Paolo Veronese Allegory of Love Infidelity 1575

“The text is a passage from John Ruskin’s autobiography, “Praeterita,” that relates the great critic’s life-changing experience on a Sunday in Turin in 1858. A duteous observer of the Sabbath, he had attended a service of an old, proto-Protestant sect, the Waldensians, where the preacher, “a somewhat stunted figure in a plain black coat,” sermonized “on the wickedness of the wide world” and “on the exclusive favour with God” of his sparse congregation. “Myself neither cheered nor greatly alarmed by this doctrine,” Ruskin wrote, he left the chapel and went to the municipal gallery, where in one room a Veronese, “Solomon and the Queen of Sheba”—the queen and her retinue arrive bearing gifts, the most delectable of which may be the queen herself—“glowed in full afternoon light.” As he looked at the painting, he heard, through the open windows, “swells and falls” of a military band that “seemed to me more devotional, in their perfect art, tune, and discipline, than anything I remembered of evangelical hymns. And as the perfect colour and sound gradually asserted their power on me, they seemed finally to fasten me in the old article of Jewish faith, that things done delightfully and rightly were always done by the help and in the Spirit of God.” On “that day, my evangelical beliefs were put away, to be debated of no more.” In a letter to a friend, Ruskin concluded from the event that “to be a first-rate painter, you mustn’t be pious—but rather a little wicked and entirely a man of the world.” He thus gave himself over to a principled aestheticism that through his influence (on his student Oscar Wilde, for one) would inform the substitute religions of modern art.” [Peter Schjeldahl on John Ruskin and Veronese]

First of the New

Tiepolo The Banquet of Cleopatra 1743-50

“On the eve of his departure from Venice for the royal court in Spain in 1762, at the age of 66, Giambattista Tiepolo told a reporter from a local newspaper, the Nuova Veneta Gazzetta: “Painters should strive to succeed in creating great works, that is those that can please noble lords and the rich because these make the fortunes of masters — and not other people, who cannot buy pictures of great value. So the painter’s mind must always aim at the sublime, the heroic and for perfection.”
This was a rare spoken record of Tiepolo’s artistic credo, but it was one that had guided his whole life and made it possible for him to realize masterpieces on a stupendous scale.” [Roderick Conway Morris on Tiepolo]

Tiepolo Allegoria Nuziale di Ludovico Rezzonico e Faustina Savorgnan 1758

“… Calasso observes that “while it is doubtful that the cause of the proletariat was dear to his heart,” Longhi out of political conviction insisted on the term reality as an arbiter of artistic success, “and always with the idea that modernism must be, by vocation, something grim and ‘workaday’”—rather than, we assume, airy and easeful, and ever informed by the spirit of sprezzatura. Calasso sees himself agreeing with Longhi that Tiepolo was the last of a glorious line, but for Longhi Tiepolo was “the weak link … the reprobate whose aberrant style heralded the lamentable end of a superb history.” While Longhi claimed Caravaggio as the first painter of the modern age, Calasso on the contrary insists that “in retrospect the only painter who could have had a claim to be the first of the forefathers of ‘modern life’ was none other than Tiepolo.” [John Banville on Tiepolo Pink by Roberto Calasso]

Tiepolo Nobility and Virtue defeating Wickedness 1744-45

“Yet delightful as Longhi, Canale, and Guardi are, and imbued with the spirit of their own century, they lack the quality of force, without which there can be no impressive style. This quality their contemporary Tiepolo possessed to the utmost. His energy, his feeling for splendor, his mastery over his craft, place him almost on a level with the great Venetians of the sixteenth century, although he never allows one to forget what he owes to them, particularly to Veronese. The grand scenes he paints differ from those of his predecessor not so much in inferiority of workmanship, as in a lack of that simplicity and candor which never failed Paolo, no matter how proud the event he might be portraying…. Paolo saw a world barely touched by the fashions of the Spanish Court, while Tiepolo lived among people whose very hearts had been vitiated by its measureless haughtiness. 
But Tiepolos feeling for strength, for movement, and for color was great enough to give a new impulse to art. At times he seems not so much the last of the old masters as the first of the new. The works he left in Spain do more than a little to explain the revival of painting in that country under Goya; and Goya, in his turn, had a great influence upon many of the best French artists of recent times. [Berenson on Teipolo]

Hover in Abbreviated Spaces

Tintoretto Miracle of the Slave 1548

“Some people’s whole lives get upended when they first discover Tintoretto, the most Venetian of artists and the world champion of painterly turbulence. The Victorian art critic John Ruskin nearly fainted outside San Rocco. Henry James became ecstatic. Today, some visitors are reduced to tears. Tintoretto left me powerless, too, when I first visited San Rocco in my youth, and did so again for different reasons this October, just before record flooding turned St. Mark’s Square into a swimming pool.
What Tintoretto cared about were bodies, muscly and in motion. The figures are often foreshortened and hover in abbreviated spaces. Their poses are orchestrated to the max — everyone is flying, crashing, charging, recoiling. Their clothes, especially white fabrics, are translucent to the point of perviness. All of it is done with a speed and freedom that enthralled some of his contemporaries, and others dismissed as a scam to fulfill more commissions and make money.” [Jason Farago on Tintoretto]

Tintoretto St Roch Healing the Plague-Stricken 1549

“So many of his commissions were won by subterfuge and stealth. In 1564, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a lay confraternity in Venice, held a competition for an artist to complete a ceiling painting of Saint Roch, the protector against plague. Tintoretto (1518/9–94) was among the painters invited to produce designs for the space. The story goes that every artist placed his sketch before the judges except Tintoretto, who peeled back a covering from the ceiling panel to reveal a finished work instead.
Tintoretto’s painting of the saint being received by God is brilliantly dynamic but, as the members of the confraternity told him, he had no right to have installed it surreptitiously. Tintoretto calmly responded that they were welcome to it, which was less generous than cunning, for they were obliged to accept donations to the scuola. In the end, the majority voted not only to keep the painting, but also to employ Tintoretto to produce several more for the building in exchange for an annuity.” [Daisy Dunn on Tintoretto]

Tintoretto Baptism of Christ 1578-81

“Everything the art world’s first great biographer, Giorgio Vasari, says about Tintoretto isn’t strictly accurate, but he knew the man and saw his work in Venice in the 1560s. What he wrote has the ring of closely observed truth. He called Tintoretto “swift, resolute, fantastic, and extravagant, with the most extraordinary brain that the art of painting has ever produced.” High praise, but now the dig: “This master at times has left as finished works sketches still so rough that the brushstrokes seem done more by chance and vehemence than with judgment and design.”
In his day, Tintoretto’s rough finish was a marketplace plus and a minus. I called Tintoretto a “slasher” last week because of the gestural vigor of his brushstrokes. This was his personal style and something new in Venetian art. He had the mood, the eye, and the hand to apply the new medium of oil paint in thick dollops on a textured canvas and create a coherent, buoyant line. It served Tintoretto well professionally. It was a style for billboard-size paintings, where figures were conveyed in broad outlines and general characteristics rather than in tiny details. The effect isn’t confused, incoherent clots of figures but restlessness. Tintoretto also worked fast, as slashers often do. If you needed something good in a hurry, Tintoretto was your man.” [Brian T. Allen on Tintoretto]

Unavoidably Charismatic Vibe


Joyce Pensato Holy Blackout Batman 2015

“The first thing one notices about the paintings on display is the immediacy with which they are painted. There is a dark, brooding feeling of aggression that pulls itself across the surfaces of the 9 large paintings that decorate Petzel’s main gallery space. The sense of storm and stress that pervades this room is almost physically present. Though each of the bizarre cartoons, leering manically from their various positions on the wall, has a clear sense of personality, the material sense of paint overwhelms the figurative depictions beneath. Pensato’s “Castaway Mickey” grins eerily at visitors, emanating a totally unsettling but unavoidably charismatic vibe. While it might be easy to start to imagine the fucked-up inner thoughts of this would-be character, the violent, almost performative gusto with which this painting was made tends to wrench you out of that sort of reverie. It is this tension between the subject matter and materiality that lends these works their indecipherable, mysterious quality.” [Howard Hurst on Joyce Pensato]

Joyce Pensato Twins 2005

“I WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE my first ever solo show in the East Village at Fiction/Nonfiction gallery in 1991. A couple of the Mickey Mouse drawings I had started doing were going to be in it. For two years I’d been making work for this show, and just a couple of weeks before it was supposed to go up, it got canceled…. [T]he cancellation forced me to really look at what I was doing and thinking about, and what I liked looking at. For the longest time I’d been torn, divided—I had two sides to me as an artist, and I was longing to just become one, totally unafraid of who I wanted to be. One side of me was making these colorful, atmospheric, AbEx-y landscapes, while the other was making these charcoal drawings that were simple, black-and-white, graphic. And I really wanted to make the drawings paintings—it just made sense to me. I like being messy and I love throwing paint around and fucking it all up. But I also like the structure drawing provides.” [Joyce Pensato in conversation with Alex Jovanovich]


Joyce Pensato, Chicago Eyes, 2016

“There were so few women artists to look up to, and she was in the art history books. She was a woman painter who was totally passionate. Joan [Mitchell] and Mercedes [Matter] were both strong-willed women and they were my mentors. Mercedes was like a cheerleader, and Joan was the critical mom. As I got healthier psychologically, my trips to visit Joanie became shorter, and eventually I stopped going. The first trip was six months, then maybe two months, and I think the last one was two weeks. One of the last things she said to me was, “Are you still doing those animals? Do you still have that skin disease in your work?”
A couple of months into my first visit, Joan said, “What kind of painter do you want to be? Do you want to be one of those German Expressionists painting without color, without light? Or, do you want to be French — with light and color and air?” I would say, “I want to be French!” But, after I left, I realized that I was an Expressionist, painting without color.” [Joyce Pensato in conversation with Jennifer Samet ]

Infinite Amount of Images

Julie Ryan The Gambler 2016

“My process is a chain of discoveries. It’s a long interaction where I capture things I find on the canvas or paper, and develop them. I avoid critique at every step. The work feels so lifeless when I can see exactly how I made a piece. A feature of 21st century engagement with art is the impossibility to isolate work. It can be compared to an – for all intents and purposes – infinite amount of images available online, and inherit lines of critique that are dead weight to the experience. I had to take down all the scraps and clippings from other artists’ work that I’ve gathered over the years because they were suffocating my studio. So we can choose to dialogue or to discover, and the latter seems to lead to the real dialogue we want in the first place. I have to be in a specific mood to make those discoveries, and I know quickly when my time in the studio is going to be fruitless.” [Julie Ryan on painting]

Julie Ryan Untitled 2012

“A painting is perched on an easel in the corner, and affixed to the wall are a handful of double-sided paintings on paper. Black-and-white with odd-shaped cut-out forms, they’re emblematic of her former nomadic lifestyle. A couple of larger paintings with partial ceramic frames—part of a series inspired by European bathhouses—hang nearby. They’re so dominated by lines, they almost look like drawings on canvas, though pinks, blues, yellows, and muted grays manage to work their way in, inspired by the misty colors of European saunas. “I think part of the practice of making the paper pieces is they’re mobile,” she says. “Having the space in the Navy Yard, it moved to large scale paintings. That’s a privilege. That changes everything. That changes how you make work, how you’re perceived in the art world, and it’s different than having everything in your pocket.” [Laura Itzkowitz on Julie Ryan]

Julie Ryan Handy 2016

“Ryan plays with ideas about abstraction, as the faces become more about the surface than the content. She puts three abstract pieces, including one of her own, a painting called “The Tour,” on the wall. In the context of the mural behind it, Ryan’s engaging abstract painting starts to look representational. Broken into three main areas of brush strokes and colors, the upper left side, mostly just a series of horizontal lines, becomes a face, echoing the female face peering from the wall just behind it.” [Amy Griffin on Julie Ryan’s The Crayon Miscellany]

A Sign for Fake Space


Carrie Moyer Cloud Comb For Georgia 2015

“In my work, there’s a playful relationship to some of the most traditional and clichéd imagery of painting, such as landscape, flowers and female figures. It sneaks in there in humorous ways. When it shows up in the work, I embrace it: yeah, those are boobs in there.
I’m also interested in breaking conditions that are supposed to go with certain kinds of painting. For example, a flat, Greenbergian abstraction would never include shadows. Tacky! The space in a Hans Hofmann painting is made through color. I like to have illusionistic space and flatness in the same painting. Somehow this goes back to working as a designer in the advent of the desktop computer. In the old days, before people designed everything on a Mac, nothing had a “drop shadow.” The drop shadow is an invention of Microsoft. It is a sign for fake space.” [Carrie Moyer in conversation with Jennifer Samet]

Carrie Moyer Pirate Jenny 2013

“Her formal innovations are no less significant. Perhaps most impressive is the elegance with which she collapses into each canvas the major dichotomies that have defined Western painting from the Renaissance to last week. Moyer has switched all the “either/or” oppositions to “both/and” statements: color and drawing; depth and flatness; negative and positive space; figure and ground; figuration and abstraction. Her work is also both market-friendly and political. This inclusiveness gives her paintings, for all of their historical references, a strong sense of speaking to the current moment, when the need to hold seemingly opposed truths at once has become a necessity for remaining sane. ” [Julian Kreimer on Carrie Moyer]


Carrie Moyer Sea of Forms 2019

“Well, one thing that had become increasingly important to my work is an involvement with art history—particularly the history of painting. Being in dialogue with artists of the past is really important to me. However, I feel the need to “name that passage” in relationships or references like I did when I was younger. For example, this one passage in the painting “Cold Mountain,” we looked at this morning ended up being a direct quote from Elizabeth Murray, whose work I admire immensely and whose images are somehow buried in my brain. The other goal I had for this work was to make the pictorial space much more complex. I wanted to get away from these yards and yards of flat color. In May I visited northwest New Mexico for the first time. The trip reaffirmed my interests in rock formations, minerals, and crystals. Different versions of that blazing turquoise sky appear in quite a few of the paintings, in particular “Midnight at the Oasis” (2011)” [Carrie Moyer in conversation with Phong Bui]

Tremendous Temporal Evocations

Jackie Saccoccio Spectral Hole 2017

“I use paint in varying degrees of liquidity and apply layer upon layer, with anywhere from 10-50+ passes. It’s an additive occupation. I mean, I cover things, but I rarely edit or wipe off. I want the canvas to record the entire passage of the painting experience, including whatever self-doubt and bravado that went into its making. I guess that’s my nod to Malcolm Morley. Using the trope of photo-realist gridding, he executed such tremendous temporal evocations, with each grid reflecting the gestural experience of the moment, so that the end product is as much a painting of a ship as it is a record of the daily shifts in expression/execution—a psychological form of cubism lain out in a grid form.
The disorientation may be initiated by my approaching the canvasses as sculptures. When making One to One (a site-specific 15’ painting at Eleven Rivington in 2010), I recognized a shift in my attitude towards the mark-making. I wasn’t developing passages toward a visually penetrable space, but building an object—a wall in that case. Despite using paint and linen, that adjustment in my intent altered the end result considerably.” [Jackie Saccoccio in conversation with Ridley Howard]

Jackie Saccoccio Profile (Heartbeat) 2015

“When utilizing gravity, à la Sigmar Polke, Saccoccio pursues with energy the pictorial implications of this strategy, and she does not stop at the first interesting result, as Polke did. This was, for the latter, not a shortcoming; a pictorial interrogation of possibilities was not Polke’s thing. Yet Saccoccio continually revises her canvas by reversing its orientation, embracing the destruction of previous states with the aid of a brush, which she appears to use at some velocity. We cannot be sure of this speed—and so what? Reading and making a painting are entirely different matters. The life of a painting after it leaves the studio is made up of the viewer’s projections and reactions, a Faustian deal (the painter’s, not the viewer’s) that lasts for centuries. This is something newer media has yet to experience.” [David Rhodes on Jackie Saccoccio]

Jackie Saccoccio Curtain 2011

“It seems like a really reactionary, smarmy thing to do. Drips in abstract painting? It’s the thing you shouldn’t do. I don’t like when people lump me in with Abstract Expressionism to the exclusion of other influences—it’s certainly a huge influence, but it seems like drips really became a thing with them. It’s become a trigger point: “Oh, there’s a drip there, it must be Abstract Expressionism.” My drips are almost a mockery of that.
I guess this rebellious impulse comes from the idea of my initial approach to making artwork, my love of architecture and early foray into studying it. There’s this idea that paintings are things that get in the way of the architecture. There’s almost a hostility to paintings. It’s a challenge to make a painting that’s on par with the architecture it’s in, so that has a lot to do with the scale I work at as well. It’s a pushback against the architecture.” [Jackie Saccoccio in conversation with Dylan Kerr]

Depart From Pollock

Helen Frankenthaler Hommage á Chardin 1957

“It was more than just the drawing, webbing, weaving, dripping of a stick held in enamel, more than just the rhythm. It seemed to have much more complication and order of a kind that at that time I responded to. Something maybe more baroque, more drawn and with some elements of realism abstracted or Surrealism or a hint of it. In other words, you could certainly look at that picture and not see that at all. It is a totally abstract picture but it had that additional quality in it for me. There were pictures I liked equally well that I could see nothing in that had anything to do with subject matter. But this one I particularly responded to.
And at that time I was just starting to part totally with subject matter. I have a couple of pictures that, well, one of them looks like a design pattern all over. I mean it’s not a painting, it’s a motif. And I was experiencing many changes and experiments during this time. I was then working in a medium of, and this was brief, I have maybe ten pictures of this, plaster of Paris, enamel house paint, tube pigment, sand, and probably kerosene or something. It was all very cheap.” [Helen Frankenthaler in conversation with Barbara Rose]

Helen Frankenthaler Hotel Cro-Magnon 1958

“She studied with the German-born guru of painterly abstraction Hans Hofmann, but she shunned the modes of fervent expressiveness—promoted as Action painting by Greenberg’s agonistic rival critic Harold Rosenberg—that engaged most artists of the so-called second generation of Abstract Expressionism. She said, “You could become a de Kooning disciple or satellite or mirror, but you could departfrom Pollock,” by which she meant that adapting Pollock’s idea of coöperating with chance held more promise than aping de Kooning’s unattainable virtuosity. She was just twenty-three when she poured puddles of paint, in palely glowing colors, onto a cotton canvas to produce “Mountains and Sea” (1952), which is the Rosetta stone of color-field (it’s in the National Gallery of Art, in Washington), despite the fact that it bears drawn lines and a redolence of landscape. Greenberg showed the picture to Louis and the painter Kenneth Noland, both visiting from Washington, D.C., on April 4, 1953. If color-field were a nation, that day would be its Fourth of July. Frankenthaler’s work was the “bridge from Pollock to what was possible,” Louis later declared.” [Peter Schjeldahl on Helen Frankenthaler]

Helen Frankenthaler Before the Caves, 1958

“…the works are pretty extraordinary, some of them very unexpected. Many people don’t have a strong sense of the course of her development, or haven’t studied her transitions at this level of detail. I think even scholars who know her work will find these lesser-known periods revelatory and exciting. Of course, once the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation has published its catalogue raisonné, it will be great to have a real sense of what was happening work after work for her entire career.
One interesting thing that starts to happen in the second half of the 1950s, for example, is that the canvases become more depictive than they were in the first stain period. That depictive quality is obviously there in the light, thin lines of Mountains and Sea, but it soon disappears from subsequent paintings, then comes back with a vengeance in ’56 and ’57: the paint is very much poured on and manipulated but there’s a clear figurative emphasis. At times you’re not quite sure what the figure represents… the figuration is produced through an expanded version of linear drawing, which is poured on as well as drawn with the brush. And the figuration can be as much in negative spaces as in positive ones.” [John Elderfield on Helen Frankenthaler]