Helen Frankenthaler | Bilbao



Helen Frankenthaler| Bilbao, 1998
Lithograph in colours
35 1/4 × 47 in
89.5 × 119.4 cm
Signed and numbered
Edition 4/9 aside 150


Helen Frankenthaler | Bilbao Lithograph in colours, 1998, signed and dated in pencil, an hors commerce impression aside from the edition of 150, published by Art of This Century, New York. H.C. stands for hors commerce, or ‘not to sell’. Similar to an artist’s proof, this proof was set aside from the editioned prints. Often the H.C. impressions were used as replacement or insurance copies for prints that were lost or damaged. Hors Commerce prints are identical to the editioned prints.

The lyrical abstractions of Helen Frankenthaler’s prints provided a welcome divergence from the heavily impastoed oil on canvases that had long dominated the Abstract Expressionist movement. Frankenthaler favoured lithography as a technique as it allowed her to use more gestural brush strokes in order to evoke an organic quality within her works. In Bilbao, the watery plains of golden ink are subtly punctuated with areas of blue, green and red. When viewed within the context of Bilbao – one of Spain’s most important ports – these fluid golden plains replicate a balanced ocean-like ebb and flow ultimately transporting the viewer into the realm of imagination.


Helen Frankenthaler

Frankenthaler was a trailblazer of the modern print-making movement, endlessly pushing and transcending boundaries through relentless experimentation. She approached her work without pre-determined ideas and favoured an artistic process that focused on sensation and celebrating mistakes, arguing that they were fundamental to being an ‘artist’. In her approach she regularly remarked ‘suppose I do this?’ which was radical in the context of printmaking of the time. Her liberated approach is echoed in the rust like pools of printing ink in Reflections II, which seem to have been allowed to simply flow wherever the surface of the paper permitted, without the guidance of the artist’s hand. Every print she made only added to her extensive vocabulary, a visual language that the art critic Judith Goldman notes as ‘one that was direct and unencumbered, abstract and realistic, free and controlled, empathetically flat and capable of creating a deep space’.

The American painter Helen Frankenthaler was an enormously influential artist in the mid-20th century. Her unique approach to Abstract Expressionism—a movement she was at first heavily associated with—ushered in her own distinct “soak-stain” method. Born in 1928, Frankenthaler moved through a variety of phases over her 60 active years as an artist. Throughout her career Frankenthaler strove to emphasise the role of spontaneity in her work.

Frankenthaler died in 2011, her work already firmly established since the 60s in permanent collections such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


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