“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]
“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]
“…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]