Modern Art Monday Presents: Helen Frankenthaler, Wizard

wizard by helen frankenthaler  photo by gail worley
Photos By Gail Worley

From Situating Helen Frankenthaler’s  Wizard by Louise Byrne

Completed in 1963, Helen Frankenthaler’s Wizard stands apart from her then contemporary paintings, with its vertical orientation, body-sized scale, and figural allusion in both name and form. One of the last paintings Frankenthaler worked entirely in oil, Wizard should be understood as a crucial experiment in both method and medium, presaging key changes in Frankenthaler’s established approach. The artist’s works of 1962 show the last influences of didactic expressionism, where apparently unguided drips and blots of oil punctuate wide expanses of unprimed canvas, each piece emerging as an autonomous work.

wizard by helen frankenthaler  photo by gail worley
Installation View

Between 19631964, however, Frankenthaler began to work serially, using acrylic rather than oil. At the same time, her work turned more profoundly interior, with enveloping swathes of paint containing centered but still abstracted images. With its recognizable, centrally placed figural form, its flooded surface, and its dense layering of paint, Wizard makes visible a pull between spontaneity and intent. The tensions of Wizard signal a change of direction for Frankenthaler. Where her works from 1962 clearly privileged flatness — the canvas of equal import with the paint — in Wizard and related works, a new and more conflicted relationship between form and material emerged.

Photographed in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City.

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