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The Vanguard: Helen Frankenthaler

on January 02, 2024

Born in 1928, Helen Frankenthaler's early exposure to the art world through her family is what ignited her passion for painting. Her impact on the Abstract Expressionist movement cannot be overstated. 

She developed a distinctive style characterized by her use of color-stained canvases, a technique she invented with her breakthrough work, 'Mountains and Sea' in 1952 when she was 23 years old (below).

abstract expressionist artist helen frankenthaler mountains and see painting

'Mountains and Sea' by Helen Frankenthaler, 1952.

This technique entailed pouring thinned paint onto un-primed canvas on the floor and working the paint to create fields of translucent colors, as though they were floating on top of each other. The invention of this technique significantly influenced the emerging school of color field painting, which included artists like Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland.

Beyond her artistic contributions, Frankenthaler navigated the male-dominated art scene of her time, carving out a space for herself as a prominent female artist. Despite facing initial skepticism, she persevered, and her bold approach to abstraction challenged conventional notions of painting left an enduring legacy as one of the most influential (not just female) artists of her time.

abstract expressionism artist helen frankenthaler 1950s
Helen Frankenthaler in her studio in the 1950s.

What I appreciate most about Frankenthaler's work is how she conveys a sense of freedom and liberation in her art (like the one below). This liberated approach to her creative practice was reflected throughout her entire career, which was characterized by continuous experimentation until her death in 2011.

abstract expressionism artist helen frankenthaler painting first creatures

'First Creatures' by Helen Frankenthaler, 1960.

Helen Frankenthaler was a significant voice in the Abstract Expressionist movement and she deeply believed in Abstract Expressionism's power to evoke profound emotional responses and challenge conventional thinking. Through her paintings, she invited folks to immerse themselves in a world of vibrant color and fluid forms, transcending the boundaries of traditional representation.


Pete Stein
Founder, Galerie Stein

Galerie Stein will be presenting several contemporary Abstract Expressionist artists both virtually at and in our gallery in Montreal in 2024.
Contact: Pete Stein at