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|
|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 & 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|
The presentation of these low resolution jpg files add more than words alone could impart. It is believed that this is fair use and does not infringe copyright. According to section 107 of the United States Copyright Act of 1976: The fair use of a copyrighted work…for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. The images are used for non-profit purposes. This factor is noted as relevant by the Act.