A pioneering abstract expressionist painter, Helen Frankenthaler (1923-2011) grew up on New York’s Upper East Side. She was the youngest of three sisters, and her father was a respected New York Supreme Court Judge. Frankenthaler’s parents supported her early dreams of becoming an artist, which set the stage for a passionate and extensive career that spanned six decades and transcended critical moments of art history. By the time she was in her early 20s, Frankenthaler was well-established as the youngest member of the New York School, a generation of postwar artists that included abstract expressionist and color-field painters such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Robert Motherwell. Among her peers, she was known as a rule-breaker and an inventor, and she fearlessly navigated the terrain of modernist painting to create a style that was distinctly her own.
In 1952, Frankenthaler painted her breakthrough work, Mountains and Sea, using what became known as her signature method of “soak stain.” This process, inspired by Pollock, involved laying an unprimed canvas directly on the floor, thinning a can of oil paint to a consistency of a liquid, and then directly pouring the paint onto the canvas until the pigment was absorbed by the fabric. Even though her technique was largely gestural and spontaneous, Frankenthaler showed complete control over her work and often experimented with a variety of tools such as a squeegee, sponge, brush, object, and even her own hands.
In Lush Spring, pictured here, Frankenthaler takes the sensations, moods, and attributes of springtime and translates them onto a flat, two-dimensional surface. In using the notion of a landscape as a point of departure, she creates an atmospheric composition filled with translucent colors inspired by the natural environment. This arrangement of lyrical forms is evocative of fields of grass, endlessly flowing rivers, and sweeping blue skies.