Thursday, 7 July 2011

Helen Frankenthaler - part 2

This is part two of two-part post on the works of Helen Frankenthaler. For more works and biographical information, see part one below. This second part includes some of Frankenthaler's prints, a medium she took up relatively late.

Painting was Frankenthaler’s primary artistic passion, but an obsession to push her creative limits led her to turn her attention to print media. Frankenthaler created her first prints in 1961 with Tatyana Grosman at Universal Limited Art Editions in West Islip, Long Island. It was in this intimate lithographic workshop, where artists were treated as personal guests and for whom Grosman would go to any lengths to facilitate artistic needs, that Frankenthaler began to experiment with print media.

While Frankenthaler created her first woodcuts at ULAE it was not until 1976, when she commenced collaboration with master printer Kenneth Tyler, that she began a sustained investigation of the woodcut medium. Frankenthaler’s first woodcut with Tyler was Essence mulberry, produced in 1977.

1977 Essence mulberry 
woodcut

Essence mulberry is seen today as a watershed, the first of Frankenthaler’s woodcuts to employ the traditionally graphic medium in the production of an image of abstracted and inspired beauty.
In the thirty-plus years that have passed since the creation of Essence mulberry Frankenthaler has worked with Tyler Graphics in a collaboration that has dramatically shifted the parameters of the woodcut. Frankenthaler’s experimental nature drove her to use paper pulp as a support for her woodcut Freefall in 1993 and hand-dyed paper for Radius, 1993. The artist experimented with the combination of woodcut and other print techniques such as lithography in All about blue, 1994 and etching and aquatint in Ariel, 1996.

Kenneth Tyler has recalled that with the Tales of Genji, a series of six woodcut prints that Frankenthaler began in 1995, ‘It was apparent from the beginning that what was needed was a new approach and technique for making what Helen strove for: a woodcut with painterly resonance.’ With this in mind, Tyler suggested to Frankenthaler that she could communicate to the workshop of printers and more importantly, remain true to her unique style by painting her ideas for the printed works onto pieces of wood.

Supplied with wood, paint and brushes, Frankenthaler worked alone in the artist’s studio at Tyler Graphics painting the maquettes for the Tales of Genji. From the painted studies, tracings were made and woodblocks were carved by the ukiyo-e trained Japanese carver, Yasuyuki Shibata. The watery nature of Frankenthaler’s paintings created an immediate problem for printing. In order to create the lush transparent washes of colour, the printers had to work quickly with wet sheets of paper that, under the pressure of the printing press, would force the inks to bleed and blend into one another. Through trial and error and laborious proofing sessions, the workshop gradually overcame these technical difficulties.

In Madame Butterfly, 2000, we see Frankenthaler’s impulsive soak-stain painting technique realised in the most graphic of print media. The ‘spontaneous print’ that Frankenthaler has pursued throughout her print career has finally been achieved. Not only has she managed to push beyond everything that she had previously created in the woodcut medium, but technically, the work has moved into territory that shows the Tyler Graphics workshop at its finest. Madame Butterfly is a virtuoso display of 102 colours, printed from forty-six woodblocks, in a work spanning three panels of paper and measuring over two metres in length.

2000 Madame Butterfly
One of the 46 woodblocks used to create Madame Butterfly

Once again, the artist communicated her ideas to the technicians of the print workshop by painting on three pieces of specially selected wood. Paper was skilfully handmade by Tyler Graphics to resemble both the texture and look of the wood grain. The woodblocks used to print the image were carved by Frankenthaler and Yasuyuki Shibata. Frankenthaler marked the wood using her ‘guzzying’ technique, a technique involving scratching the wood with items including sandpaper and dental tools. Frankenthaler was determined to ensure that her wrist, and thus her unique sensibility, be evident in every aspect of the print’s creation, just as it is in her paintings.

1987 Yellow Jack 
lithograph

1987-8 Plaze Real No 13/60 
etching

1988 High Spirits

1992 Black Frame #1 
acrylic

1993 Freefall 
woodcut

1993 Radius 
woodcut

1994 Untitled 
acrylic

1994 All about blue 
lithograph

1995 Adobe 
acrylic

1995 Reflections IX 
lithograph

1995 Russet 
acrylic

1996 Ariel 
etching and aquatint

1998 Tales of Genji I 
woodcut

1998 Tales of Genji II 
woodcut

1998 Tales of Genji III 
woodcut

2000 Grey Fireworks 
silkscreen

2002 Contentment Island 
silkscreen

2004 Snow Pines 
woodcut

2005 Southern Exposure 
silkscreen

2009 Aerie 
silkscreen


2 comments:

  1. Color, color, color. How beautiful. Thanks for putting this together Poul!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow. Beautiful works by one of America's great artists.

    ReplyDelete