Van Gogh •
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Of the generation of painters who succeeded the Abstract Expressionists, Helen Frankenthaler is considered a major innovator in the technique of
color-field painting. Born in New York City, Miss Frankenthaler's early art teachers include the Mexican painter, Rufino Tamayo, at the Dalton School and Paul Feeley at Bennington College. The artistic circles of New York City provided the young painter with broad experiences. In 1950, she met Clement Greenberg, who introduced her to Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. The experience of seeing Pollock at work in his Springs, Long Island studio stimulated a new concern with line, although Frankenthaler's line-a hazy wash-was totally unlike Pollock's nervous electric painting. A major breakthrough in her work occurred in 1952 when she came up with a mixture of house paint, enamel, turpentine and oil, and spilled this from coffee cans onto unsized canvas. In her first major work in this style, gestured lines in charcoal were laid in first in order to suggest an abstract "memory" of landscape. But these guideposts were eventually eliminated. "Mountains and the Sea", her first "soaked" canvas, had a great impact on American painters, particularly her contemporaries Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis, who adapted the technique to their own work.
Frankenthaler has been considered a transitional artist between Abstract Expressionism and color-field painting. She was certainly the first American
painter after Pollock to see the implications of color-staining raw canvas to create an integration of color and ground in which foreground and background cease to exist. In Frankenthaler's work immense canvases are painted in an open composition often building around a free, abstract, central image. She builds form from within, contrasting the saturation and density of her paint to create a rising and swelling motion related to marine or landscape images. The technique of staining canvases with poured paint involves, necessarily, a great amount of risk, as there is no chance for correction. If a painting failed somewhere along the way, she rejected it. But when successful her paintings became harmonious blends of motion and color.