Helen Frankenthaler | Flotilla



Helen Frankenthaler | Flotilla
31 × 37 in | 78.7 × 94 cm
Signed and numbered
Edition of 120


‘Flotilla’ takes its name from the nautical term meaning a small military formation of boats or ships, though Frankenthaler’s scene appears to feature only a singular ship on its screenprinted horizon. The present work includes all the common features of a traditional maritime scene: a sea fog, the dusky lighting of a setting sun and a silhouetted ship. The ship sits poised on the horizon line, lit by the sky in its golden hour, whilst a blue fog rolls in from the left. However, Frankenthaler ensures that ‘Flotilla’ reinterprets the traditional Turner-esque maritime scene, reimagining it through the lens of an Abstract Expressionist.




Frankenthaler was an avid printmaker, often focusing on the woodcutting process, but she also branched into lithography and sometimes screenprinting, as was her chosen method for this work. She enjoyed pushing the boundaries of printmaking through her Colour Field or ‘Soak and Stain’ method, and ‘Flotilla’ is a prime example of this. Her abstract subject, diverse colour palette and trademark technique are all realised in this later work and demonstrate both her skill as an artist and a printmaker.


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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