"A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once. It’s an immediate image." (Helen Frankenthaler in Helen Frankenthaler, exh. cat., Ameringer Yohe Fine Art, 2007, p. 3)
Painted one year after a major exhibition of her work at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, The Strand, with its deep and earthy palette of maroon, red, white and green, is an illustrious example of the evolution of Frankenthaler’s work and particularly exemplary of the line-bedecked swaths of large regions of color that define her mature work of the 1980s. Placed prominently in the center of the composition is a creamy white strand that effortlessly floats apart and comes back together, evoking the title of the work. Within this form is a thin line that twists and loops as if engaged in a dance with itself, generating a spontaneity that allows the mark to seem as if it simply appeared on the canvas. Behind this buildup of white rests a stately deep maroon ground, a stark contrast between light and dark that can be found throughout Frankenthaler’s work of this decade. This juxtaposition allows the white strand to pop against the dark background, creating a dynamic and natural emergence of form onto the canvas.
While the central portion of the painting is reminiscent of the energetic gestures that have come to define Frankenthaler’s earlier style, there is a sense of calm to the work that is contrasted with this movement, formed by the large, open expanses on the canvas. These broad areas of stained color with their subtly rendered lines produce a slower movement of the eye across the surface, and exemplify a maturity from the excitement over the immediacy of experience to a calmer reception of images. The bold washes of color which Helen Frankenthaler orchestrates across the surface of this canvas embody her lifelong determination to pursue her own artistic path within the male dominated realm of Abstract Expressionism and the “stain” technique which has characterized her legacy. While her unique gestural forms are directly influenced by Jackson Pollock’s drips, unlike the forceful brushwork of her male counterparts, Frankenthaler’s motifs are much more fluid and harmonious, lending her work a rich and poetic quality. Combined, these elements illustrate her evolution as an artist and the ease with which she reuses different stylistic tendencies while remaining a uniquely innovative artist.