Monday 12 December 2016

Talking of Beauty: Helen Frankenthaler

The American painter Helen Frankenthaler - of whom it would have been good to see a lot more in the RA's Abstract Expressionism exhibition - was born on this day in 1928. A brilliant colourist, she worked in various styles over six decades, never ceasing to experiment and never losing sight of the essential aim - beauty.
 How old-fashioned, how alien to the modern art world, that word now sounds. Indeed, in her own time, Frankenthaler's work was written off by some as being 'merely beautiful'. Merely? Merely?! What else is art for if not to be beautiful?
 Helen Frankenthaler summed up her own thoughts on painting thus:
'A really good picture looks as if it's happened at once. It's an immediate image. For my own work, when a picture looks laboured and overworked, and you can read in it—well, she did this and then she did that, and then she did that—there is something in it that has not got to do with beautiful art to me. And I usually throw these out, though I think very often it takes ten of those over-laboured efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronised with your head and heart, and you have it, and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute.' 
 One really beautiful wrist motion synchronised with head and heart - is there a better description of the act of painting when it's going really, really well, when it's on the road to beauty?


  1. Coincidentally I just stumbled across this very late poem by H.F.'s friend Barbara Guest:

    Lunch at Helen Frankenthaler’s

    I wake up
    what was I dreaming about?
    “Mountains & Sea” a cloud
    a hand over the cloud. Is it China
    that arranges itself thus?
    Early China
    before envelopes?
    There is a figure in the landscape
    no not at all the sea
    on which an old man embarks in a canoe,
    what is this? a picnic in the canoe?
    It isn’t a man in that boat the kimono
    is wrapped, how does one say it is a woman!
    It’s Helen! her face with its arbor of thunder
    and laurel starts to drift over the mountain
    we’re having lunch!
    in your snow boots,
    here’s the thermos
    I’ve poured out so many words, and the sandwiches
    prepared with watercress. Blissful
    sentences begin with “Do you remember . . .”
    and “After August,” and “I saw you in a red cloak.”
    don’t jump into that pillar of statues!
    without you there is no lunch.

  2. Thanks for that Jeff - a great find! Shades of Frank O'Hara...