International Women’s Day 2017

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will know that today on the 8th March 2017 it is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange . Once a year since 1909 a day has been put aside in the calendar year to commemorate the global social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women.

Yellow Islands 1952 by Jackson Pollock 1912-1956
Jackson Pollock, Yellow Islands, 1952, oil paint on canvas, Tate collection

I have decided to dedicate my International Women’s Day to American abstract Expressionist artist Helen Frankenthaler. My reason for this dedication falls to the sidelining of her artistic merits in modern art historical writing. Having been introduced to Jackson Pollock in 1951 (by critic Clement Greenberg) and viewing his drip paintings, Frankenthaler was inspired to create a new way of applying paint to the canvas. Her method included the diluting of the paint to let it soak into the unprimed canvas, a ‘stain and soak’ technique. This inspiration came from looking at the back of canvases such as Pollock’s Yellow Islands (1951) and the way the paint had almost soaked through. This way of painting led the way to influential developments in colourfield painting. Frankenthaler with this technique emphasised the notion of literal flatness of the canvas, two dimensionality and depth of colour.

mountains-and-sea-1952 Frankenthaler.jpeg
Helen Frankenthaler, Mountains and Sea, 1952

In 1952 Frankenthaler created Mountains and Sea, a work embodying the technique of ‘stain and soak’ with colours of blue, green and red fading into pink. Greenberg then introduced this work to male artists Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis and this resulted in a breakthrough in their artistic styles. Both artists then began creating works with ‘open colour’ revolting against the sculptural. Noland was seen creating works such as Globe (1956) and Louis creating Saraband in (1959). There work was never critiqued or viewed in terms of their gender however Frankenthaler’s work was examined with relation to the fact she was a woman. Her way of painting was deemed gentle and fragile.

Kenneth Noland - Globe, 1956, Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 in
Kenneth Noland, Globe, 1956, acrylic on canvas
Louis Saraband
Morris Louis, Saraband, 1959

Frankenthaler was effectively the bridge/jumping board for Louis and Noland in their stylistic advances in the 1950s yet was sidelined by the likes of Greenberg in his discussion of generations seen in modern art history. Although in the subsequent 20-30 years her artistic triumphs were acknowledged by art historians such as Griselda Pollock, she acts as an example in modern art history of a female artist being side-lined, examined in a different way due to her gender.

So today, is for the likes of Helen Frankenthaler, a female figure who has been sidelined throughout history for being a woman in a man’s world, and here’s to changing that.



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