Helen Frankenthaller (American, born 1928)
Wind Directions, 1970
Color pochoir, 30 5/8 x 22 in.
I’m not on the lookout for subject matter, but I am on the lookout for the je ne sais
quoi that will become my aesthetic content, and I have to reach consciously and unconsciously
into all parts of my life and art experience to make order and choice
out of some of that.
--Helen Frankenthaler (1)
Helen Frankenthaler frequently uses Je ne sais quoi, the French expression meaning "I know not what," to indicate a distinctive yet elusive quality she consistently seeks to achieve in her work. A member of the mid-20th-century circle of New York artists known as abstract expressionists, she relies upon subjective impressions, memories, and emotions to create gestural, evocative images. Her signature paintings celebrate the serendipitous results of saturating a surface with rich, liquid colors and allowing them to bleed into blank spaces and layer upon one another. Although trained in easel painting, Frankenthaler was inspired by the drip paintings of her fellow abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. But instead of dripping paint to produce art, she poured diluted pigments from coffee cans onto unprimed canvases.
Frankenthaler's initial foray into printmaking was tentative, because she was skeptical about how that technically demanding, labor-intensive process would suit her unconventional, immediate approach. Much to her surprise, she found that printmaking, in its various manifestations, offered myriad options for experimentation and allowed her to create artworks that were as lyrical and expressive as her paintings. Since making her first lithograph in 1960, she has published more than 200 prints and is now recognized as much for these works on paper as for her works on canvas. Wind Directions is part of the artist’s 1970 print series Four Pochoirs. Frankenthaler used large sponges to apply acrylic paint through a stencil (or pochoir, in French) directly onto the paper. While the finished prints appear identical, each impression holds the unique color modulations that result from her hand application. While creating Wind Directions, she simultaneously laid the groundwork for a subsequent print edition. (2) Each time she applied the colors through the stencil, she carried them beyond the edge of the paper and onto a second sheet beneath it. A year later, she printed on each of those second sheets an etching of thin black lines that radiate out from the blank center to the colored edges. As befits an artist who champions spontaneity and eschews traditional methods, Frankenthaler titled that subsequent print Free Wheeling.
--Emily Stamey, Ulrich Museum curator of modern and contemporary art
1. Frankenthaler quoted in "Perceptions of Helen Frankenthaler," in Helen Frankenthaler Prints, 1961–1979 (New York: Harper and Row in association with the Williams College Artist-in-Residence
Program, 1980), 19.
2. For a lengthier technical description of both these prints, see Ruth E. Fine, Helen Frankenthaler Prints (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art and New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993), 19.