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Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
THE COLLECTION OF JOAN AND PRESTON ROBERT TISCH
Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)

After Hours

Details
Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
After Hours
signed and dated 'frankenthaler 1975' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
60 1/8 x 169 ¼ in. (152.7 x 429.8 cm.)
Painted in 1975.
Provenance
André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the late owners
Literature
T. Hess, "Abstract Acrylicism", New York Magazine, December 1975, vol. 49, p. 112 (illustrated).
Frankenthaler at Eighty: Six Decades, exh. cat., M. Knoedler & Co., New York, November 2008-January 2009, pp. 23 and 65 (illustrated).
Line into Color, Color into Line: Helen Frankenthaler, Paintings 1962-1987, exh. cat., Beverly Hills, 2016 p. 64 (illustrated).
Exhibited
New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Helen Frankenthaler New Paintings, November-December 1975 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

“Truth comes when one is totally involved in the act of painting... somehow using everything one knows about painting materials, dreams, and feelings. Consciously and unconsciously, the artist allows what must happen to happen. That act connects you to yourself and gives you hope... The painter makes something magical, spatial, and alive on a surface that is flat and with materials that are inert. That magic is what makes paintings unique and necessary” (H. Frankenthaler quoted in After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1950-59, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1998, p. 46).

“Her paintings are not merely beautiful. They are statements of great intensity and significance about what it is to stay alive, to face crisis and survive, to accept maturity with grace and even joy" (B. Rose, Frankenthaler, New York, 1972, pp. 105-106).


After Hours is a stately example of Helen Frankenthaler’s position as one of the leading proponents of abstract painting in the late 20th century. Building on the stylistic breakthroughs of her contemporaries like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, she composed magnificent, emotive canvases that spoke to an increased interest in foregrounding the support while also playing with color and depth. Morris Louis once noted that Frankenthaler had constructed a “bridge between Pollock and what was possible” (M. Louis, quoted by J. Yau, “On Her Own,” in Helen Frankenthaler: East and Beyond, New York, 2011, p. 5). As much a part of the Abstract Expressionist movement as a harbinger of the future of painting, Frankenthaler’s steady evolution as an artist throughout her career places her firmly in the canon of American art history.

Over fourteen feet in length, After Hours is an epic example of Frankenthaler’s work from the mid-70s. Anchored horizontally by a large burgundy form resembling the prow of an ocean liner, the entire composition exudes a heady strength. The center of the canvas is filled with billowing yellow plumes that drift over the other colors like a fog. Alongside these primary forms, a long slash of blue extends across the top accompanied by an area of billowing white that draws the viewer’s gaze toward the painting’s upper reaches. A light blue field surrounds these focal elements on all sides and exists to both contain and visually enhance the artist’s composition. The play between the blue, yellow, and burgundy fields creates an uncertainty that speaks to Frankenthaler’s experimentation within the picture plane. She articulated that “my feeling [is] that a successful abstract painting plays with space on all different levels, different speeds, with different perspectives, and at the same time remains flat... For me the most beautiful pictures of any age have this ambiguity” (H. Frankenthaler, quoted by A. Rowley, Helen Frankenthaler: Painting History, Writing Painting, New York, 2007, p. 46). By embracing and encouraging the interactions present in her work, Frankenthaler was able to more meaningfully harness, control, and understand her medium.

Painted in the summer of 1975, After Hours came on the heels of several large events in the artist’s life. In 1969, she was the subject of a retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York, and in 1971 she divorced from Robert Motherwell after thirteen years of marriage. Her professional successes combined with these emotional events to produce a body of work in the early and mid-1970s that is noticeably more bold and expressive in nature. Barbara Rose, who wrote a monograph on Frankenthaler in 1972, noted about this time period, “Her paintings are not merely beautiful. They are statements of great intensity and significance about what it is to stay alive, to face crisis and survive, to accept maturity with grace and even joy" (B. Rose, Frankenthaler, New York, 1972, pp. 105-106). By harnessing the fluid nature of her trademark thinned paint and combining it with a newfound interest in painterly strokes, the artist was able to produce decisively momentous compositions that both furthered her career and the world’s understanding of American abstraction.

Bursting onto the scene in 1952 with the exhibition of the pivotal Mountains and Sea, Frankenthaler debuted what would become her signature style: great washes of diluted color that tumbled and spilled across the composition. Always one to emphasize the flatness of the support, Frankenthaler thinned her paint down with turpentine to create translucent areas of color that soaked into the raw canvas. “She gained what watercolorists had always had—freedom to make her gesture live on the canvas with stunning directness” (E. Munro, Originals: American Women Artists, New York, 2000, p. 218). Allowing her works to exist as layered fields of diaphanous pigment, she brought attention to the literal painting as well as the visual qualities of depth and body. This break from Abstract Expressionism was endorsed by the preeminent critic of the day, Clement Greenberg, when he coined the term Post-Painterly Abstraction in the 1960s as a way to describe the merging of paint and canvas so exemplified by Frankenthaler and like-minded artists.

Though her earlier works existed as a keen juxtaposition of raw canvas and pigment that distanced her from the materiality of paint so notable in the gestural work of Abstract Expressionists like Pollock and Willem de Kooning, by the 1970s Frankenthaler began to introduce a more painterly attention to brushwork and all-over composition. After Hours marks a departure from her earlier style by combining her more signature forms like the yellow mass with the more painterly, linear stroke in blue. This interest in exploring new avenues for expression speaks to the artist’s tireless practice and its inextricable link to her daily life. She spoke to her need for painting when she said, “Truth comes when one is totally involved in the act of painting... somehow using everything one knows about painting materials, dreams, and feelings. Consciously and unconsciously, the artist allows what must happen to happen. That act connects you to yourself and gives you hope... The painter makes something magical, spatial, and alive on a surface that is flat and with materials that are inert. That magic is what makes paintings unique and necessary” (H. Frankenthaler quoted in After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1950-59, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1998, p. 46). There is no pretense in Frankenthaler’s work, something immediately clear to viewers of After Hours. The sheer visual impact of her work is made all the more consuming when stoked by the artist’s fervor and expertise, cementing Frankenthaler as a true pillar of 20th century American painting.

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