Helen Frankenthaler, February's Turn, 1979
48 x 109 in.
Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) is a central figure of Abstract Expressionism. Somewhat younger than the first wave of the movement, Frankenthaler entered the art world when the movement had already taken hold. Her early work shows experiments with Surrealism and Expressionism, in much the same way as other members of the New York School. Frankenthaler became known for her color field painting and became a leader of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. In these paintings, Frankenthaler applied paint through staining–pouring the paints on the canvas and allowing them to mix and spread. This removed the intense and deliberate gestures of painting and yielded an openness that in some ways stood opposed to the dense compositions and paint applications of her predecessors in the New York School. Frankenthaler continued to paint until the end of her life, always finding new ways to explore space and color. February's Turn is from her middle period and does not exhibit pure color field staining. The overall impression of this piece is quite astounding. Over nine feet long, this large canvas has an imposing presence, and the intensity of its colors is quite profound. This work does use staining for some of the paint application, but unlike most of her color field pieces, the hand of the artist is clearly felt. We can see her gesture in the shaping of the purple, and in the mixture of orange and white. The title of February's turn suggests winter turning into spring (which I think most of us are hoping for at this point), and the purple seems to turn a corner to join with the green. The particular blending of colors in this piece demonstrates the artist's skill, as these shades both blend and clash, mix together and abut each other. It is Frankenthaler's genius to mold these splashes of paint to suggest a tangible space and a corporeal presence in these colors.