André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1979
“You have to know how to use the accident, how to recognize it, how to control it, and ways to eliminate it so that the whole surface looks felt and born all at once” Helen Frankenthaler
(Frankenthaler in an interview with Tyler Graphics, Mount Kisco, New York on 11 July 1994, Sound Reel 10, International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books Collection, National Gallery of Australia).
In Whiteheart, Helen Frankenthaler uses a dual painting narrative to illustrate a unique story. Initially, she dilutes her paint to stain the entirety of the canvas with color, allowing the pigment to soak and inhabit the canvas’ fibers. Her chosen medium of acrylic paint provides her work with opacity and sharpness that oil would not achieve (a factor that differentiates her work of 60s and 70s). The stain speaks to the production of a spontaneous event, “as if it were born in a minute” (H. Frankenthaler quoted in Helen Frankenthaler 1929-2011 exh. cat. Ameringer Yohe Fine Art, New York, 2007, p.3). Undulating blue, peach, and orange hues take on an understated ethereal quality while cooler tones of green and yellow radiate through complimentary shades of violet. Frankenthaler frees the paint from describing any tangible object allowing the paint to simply exist as color.
One also sees the ghost of a squeegee along the bottom of the artwork. Using this precise household tool, Frankenthaler steps away from the accident and imposes control, manipulating yet another hue of color, manually revealing and concealing gradations of opacity. The stain and the smear challenge one another, in a way that allows the viewer’s eyes to dance around the choreographed oeuvre. It is as if the trail of the squeegee underlines and anchors Frankenthaler’s new efforts to combine her methods. There is even an homage to the pour as seen by the orange form in the top left corner as well as amorphous blue concentric shape towards the center. Frankenthaler’s thinned veiling of colorful washes take on a degree of natural beauty matching the best of Morris Lois’s classic Veil paintings. As an arena of innovation, Whiteheart is a culmination of Frankenthaler’s stylistic practices, producing a new veneration for paint application.
Gracing the American public with six-decades of artistic creation, Frankenthaler’s artistic style transformed and prospered. Her maturation and development was a direct result of layering her artistic knowledge onto her past methodology, shifting from the post-painterly approach toward her Clement Greenberg-endorsed Color Field crusade. In other words, she herself set the precedent, and used past techniques as points of stylistic departure. Undeniably dynamic, this progression and advancement makes it difficult to isolate her singular style. In her energetic piece Whiteheart, one sees a hybrid between the stain, the pour and the squeegee, building upon new and old methods resulting in a reverence for the beauty of color, witnessed more candidly due to the diversity of application.