Page 25 - Studio International - August 1965
P. 25

Helen  Frankenthaler

                                                                                     symmetry. posing the question of what a painting is in a
                                                                                     variety of ways.  In certain paintings evanescent, quasi­
                                                                                     symmetrical  images  of  organic  fantasy  appeared.
                                                                                      Suggestions  of  flora.  fauna,  pale  moons.  natural
                                                                                     formations are posed dialectically. in rhyming sequence
                                                                                     of  substance  and  shadow.  Shapes  live  without linear
                                                                                     definition. spreading or suspended in filmy, irreal space
                                                                                     occasionally  emphasised with  a  narrow  border  plane.
                                                                                      The symmetry or centrality of her paintings since 1961
                                                                                     alter  earlier  premises.  Forms  no longer  spread up  and
                                                                                     out  but  contain  themselves  calmly,  their  edges  often
                                                                                     touching.  relationships  to  the  boundaries  specified.
                                                                                      What is a painting if a sequence of borders and frames
                                                                                     is  introduced?  What  kind  of  space  is  the  space  that
                                                                                     echoes beyond a plane of colour clearly  defined by a
                                                                                     rectangle?  How shall an inset of white surmounted by
                                                                                     a high orange and vignetted as though on a page. be
                                                                                     read?  These  are the problems  articulated  in  Franken­
                                                                                     thaler's recent paintings.
                                                                                      Clearly the edge assumes major importance. In shifting
                                                                                     the emphasis in her process, she changes. Colour itself.
                                                                                     without  qualifying  graphic  notation,  is  now  the  main
                                                                                     emotional vehicle.  It wells up in splendid clouds. or it
                                                                                     sits firmly  in flat areas.  It lives  by the confinement of
                                                                                     the final edge.  Illusion now resides in the way adjacent
                                                                                     colours  are  read.
                                                                                      The  sensation  of  dilating  space  is  even  more  pro­
                                                                                     nounced in Magic  Carpet.  Here again the sides of the
                                                                                     stretcher  animate  the  dominant  form.  a  yellow-to­
                                                                                     ochre  expanse  of  the  warmest  light  imaginable.  The
                                                                                     mildly  serrated  edge of this  billowing  yellow  meets  a
                                                                                     deep blue which lies calm beneath it, as though it were
                                                                                     sky  or  sea.  The  blue  serves.  in  a  way.  like  a  con­
                                                                                     ventional repoussoir except that it lifts the yellow field
                                                                                     upward.  instead of thrusting it inward.  What happens
                                                                                     in both these paintings is a new reading of colour and
                                                                                     space-horizontally infinite. vertically contained.
                                                                                      Because this flooding inward-from the definite edge
                                                                                     to the ambiguous interior-demands more stable forms.
                                                                                     Frankenthaler  tends  to  cover  her  canvas  in  recent
                                                                                     work. A superb example is Provincetown in which the
                                                                                     white-usually  a  metaphor  for  space  and  air-is
                                                                                     replaced  by  a  warm  grey  field,  a  defined atmosphere
                                                                                     within  which  a  series  of  roughly  rectangular  shapes
                                                                                     suspend themselves one from the other with the heavy
                                                                                     formative movement of a waterdrop sliding on glass.
                                                                                      The  suspense  produced  in  these  pending  shapes  is
                                                                                     doubled by the equivocal nature of the image. Here is an
          Magic  Carper 1 964     assumed  great  importance  in  her  work.  The  idea  is   image which inevitably calls to mind the misty atmos­
          96 X  98  in.           symbolised  by  the  presence  of  a  squared  form.  The  phere  of  seaside  places.  Yet,  it  is  also  abstraction,
          Andre  Emmerich  Gallery,  New York
                                  square, still open. still relatively ambiguous. serves as an  clearly designated by means of the irregular black frame
                                  abstract pictorial  device.  It is a  way of  relating  to the  around it and the strips of yellow and green below it.
                                  rectangular  limits  of  the  canvas  and  a  reference  to   Naturalistic associations are subsumed by the strength
                                  another  kind  of  space-circumscribed.  equilibriated.   of  abstract  elements.
                                   The  square  offers  the  possibility  of  double  spatial   In this painting and in most of her recent work. draw­
                                  illusion.  Consider.  for  example.  Black  with  Shadow:  ing is no longer linear but is used to determine how one
                                  Here the squared shape.  pierced by light and residing  coloured shape occludes with another. The improvisa­
                                  in a luminous no-man's-land,  establishes itself on the  tional  flow of line is replaced with  an improvisational
                                  foreplane.  Hugging  its  edge  is  the  red  that  emerges  selection of tone and chroma.
                                  from  behind.  and  at its  right  is  the  stained.  shadowy   These recent paintings.  while very different from her
                                  ochre shape that occupies an intermediary space. There is  early  works.  are  saturated  with  intimations  of  style­
                                  a  sequence  of  planes  clearly  designated  in  a  narrow  style as a synopsis of specific spatial experiences. There
                                  space  reading  back  from  the  picture  plane.  In  their  is an identifiable reflex in all of Frankenthaler's paintings.
                                  interrelations  they  are  harmoniously  stable.  Yet,  they  whether  they  are like gigantic watercolour improvisa­
                                  form  a  configuration  which.  because  of  the  capital  tions.  or  like  finished,  contained  easel  paintings.  Her
                                  square  form.  lives  in  still  another  context-the  other  way  of  knowing  experience  communicates  itself
                                   Around  1961  Frankenthaler  increased  her  use  of  fresh.  true,  and  in the  best  sense  lyrical  approach. ■
                                  space that the square within a square produces.    regardless of the pictorial alterations over the years. It is a

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