“Reach Out from Within”


Helen Frankenthaler in her studio “in the woods” in Provincetown, 1968. Working on the floor, she poured thinned paint directly onto raw, unprimed canvas, a technique that established the Color Field movement. Credit Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; J. Paul Getty Trust; via Alexander Liberman Photography Archive; Getty Research Institute.

Karen Rosenberg writes that this exhibition of Helen Frankenthaler’s work at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, NY,

“presents Provincetown [Massachusetts] as more of a psychic space, one of negotiation and self-discovery, with new family responsibilities but not too much structure — a “desired void,” as Frankenthaler wrote in a 1962 letter to [fellow artist Grace] Hartigan. “I hope to reach out from within and grow rather than give up and stop.”
(Karen Rosenberg, “‘Abstract Climates’: Helen Frankenthaler’s Ode to Provincetown,” NYTimes, 8-29-19)

A “desired void”! Frankenthaler had a way with words as well as paint.

Clement Greenberg suggested in 1950 that she study abstract painting in Provincetown with Hans Hofmann. I’m intrigued by the distance she travels from her small oil titled “Provincetown Bay” (1950) …


Frankenthaler’s “Provincetown Bay,” from 1950. Credit Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via Portland Museum of Art.

to paintings such as “Orange Breaking Through” (1961).


Frankenthaler’s “Orange Breaking Through,” from 1961. Credit Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Collection of Audrey and David Mirvish.

Paraphrasing Rosenberg, cautious, muted gray-greens and a distinct horizon line give way to simple black outlines disturbed by unwieldy splotches of tangerine and crimson. It’s an exhilarating reach.

(c) 2019 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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