Los Angeles

Helen Frankenthaler

Wilder Gallery

Seven stained canvases by Helen Frankenthaler are at Nicholas Wilder. Each painting makes positive use, to a greater or lesser degree, of unpainted canvas. Five Color Space (114'' x 75'') employs irregular patches of green, violet, ochre, blue and vermilion around the border to circumscribe a large and insistent white shape. The edges are rough and occasionally fuzzy, but their chief function is to delineate. The paint is relatively opaque, though there are, in all these works, impurities within the color masses. In Five Color Space, the violet paint is partially diluted and has a soft, dappled sheen.

But except for Mauve Hill and Mauve District her colors in this group are relatively stable. Neither of the two qualities which are most singular to the stained canvas technique are present — namely, ultra-translucency and the pulsating chromatic demi-ranges obtained by obvoluting two or more hues in the same field (Olitski). Still, Frankenthaler is essentially a colorist.

One of the closest in this group to her familiar early-sixties work is Blue Fall. The largest color area, blue, covers the center of the 90 by 69-inch canvas in a roughly rectangular,slightly obverse shape. An irregular strip of yellow borders the bottom edge, and there are two narrow strips of white paint, as well as strips of raw canvas, to each side of the blue fall (it is precisely that). The blue is opaque, but textured—marred actually, rather than enriched. Part of the power in this work lies in its utter lack of seductiveness or prettiness. The rest is virtually unanalyzable. It is possibly the most important of this selection.

Mauve District has a large field of mauve, and smaller areas of yellow-ochre, green and black paint. Within the main color area, pastel blues and pinks detach themselves in places from their dominant combined hue, and along one of the edges a more highly saturated violet tone collects, as if forced out of the main field by some soaking process. A similar but more pronounced coagulated effect obtains in the yellow and ochre section. The composition as a whole has a mottled quality, and the chromatic relationships as a whole are uncannily complex. A section of raw canvas functions here both as a definitive shape and as a sort of neutral point of reference against which color is activated.

––Jane Livingston