“You have to know how to use the accident, how to recognize it, how to control it, and ways to eliminate it so that the whole surface looks felt and born all at once.”
Included in Clement Greenberg’s celebrated Post-Painterly Abstraction exhibition, Helen Frankenthaler is a central figure in the second generation of abstract expressionism and Color Field painting. Her innovative soak-stain method, the result of pouring diluted paint on an unprimed, unstretched canvas, is marked by accident and spontaneity: “You have to know how to use the accident, how to recognize it, how to control it, and ways to eliminate it so that the whole surface looks felt and born all at once.” Her method influenced her contemporaries Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. The result are canvases that embody the flatness of the picture plane, fusing foreground and background while still evocative of a sense of space. Though initially her works were compositionally centered, she later created works with puddles of paint that fill the entire canvas. While abstract, the forms in her works are inspired by nature. In order to challenge herself artistically, Frankenthaler later turned to woodcuts that duplicate the soak-stain process in a new medium.