Helen Frankenthaler

'Deliberate Risks: Prints by Helen Frankenthaler'

“The only rule is that there are no rules. Anything is possible. It’s all about risks — deliberate risks.”
—Helen Frankenthaler

Deliberate Risks presents works recently acquired for the SCAD Museum of Art Permanent Collection by the pioneering Modernist painter and printmaker Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928–2011). With a career spanning six decades, Frankenthaler was a leading voice in the development of the second generation of Abstract Expressionism in the U.S. Considered by many to be one of the most important artists of her time, she developed a deeply unique approach to painting — which she coined the “soak-stain technique” — by saturating unprimed canvases with swaths of paint thinned by turpentine, resulting in translucent passages of color. This work was pivotal in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to the Color Field school of painting, which included artists like Kenneth Noland (American, 1924–2010), Sam Gilliam (American, b. 1933), and Morris Louis (American, 1912–62).

Signature image for Helen Frankenthaler exhibition
Helen Frankenthaler, "Geisha," woodcut, edition 4 of 14, 38" x 26", 2003. © 2020 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Pace Editions, New York.

While she is known for her work as a painter and experimentations with ceramics, textiles, and sculpture, Frankenthaler also made major contributions to the field of printmaking. As part of the Helen Frankenthaler Prints Initiative, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation gifted the SCAD Museum of Art 10 prints and four proofs from the 1960s through the early 2000s that exemplify the artist’s experimental approach to the medium. Frankenthaler created her first print in 1961, after which printmaking became an important aspect of her work. She was known for combining processes, abandoning strict, long-held rules about the medium, and even inventing her own techniques. She worked with several workshops and master printers throughout her life, which allowed her to understand the traditions of printmaking and, ultimately, to break the rules.

About the artist

Helen Frankenthaler was born in 1928 in New York. She studied under Rufino Tamayo at the Dalton School and under Paul Feeley at Bennington College, where she graduated in 1949. In 1950, her work was selected by Adolph Gottlieb for inclusion in Fifteen Unknowns at Kootz Gallery, her first gallery exhibition. Her breakthrough painting Mountains and Sea (1952) established her signature style of pouring washes of thin color on canvas laid horizontally. Her six-decade career included important international exhibitions like her first solo museum exhibition at the Jewish Museum in 1960; her representation of the U.S. at the 33rd Venice Biennale with several contemporaries in 1966; a retrospective exhibition in 1969 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which traveled to London, Hannover, and Berlin; and a painting retrospective organized by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, which traveled to The Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Detroit Institute of the Arts from 1989 to 1990. Frankenthaler served on the National Council on the Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1985 to 1992. She received the National Medal of Arts in 2001.

Install Views

Programs and events

Museum Admission

The exhibition is free for museum members and SCAD students, faculty, and staff with a valid SCAD Card, and open to the public with the cost of museum admission.

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