Double Helix is one of a series of twenty-four works from the "Umber Paintings" series, so called for their earth-toned umber, white and cream coloration. A few paintings, like Double Helix, also incorporate other colors, including the rich maroon red pigments of the present work. Krasner's friend, the poet Richard Howard, also called this group of works "Ahab-colored" for their tonal resemblance to Krasner and Pollock's beloved brown poodle by that name. Ellen Landau notes that these paintings were all painted at night, in artificial light, either in the barn studio at The Springs, or in New York City. During this period, from 1960-1962, Krasner suffered from insomnia.
Although the Umber Paintings were created years after the deaths of Jackson Pollock and Krasner's mother, Richard Howard dubbed them "mourning" paintings, with Krasner's blessing. Krasner's paint application seems meditative in its use of monochromatic tones, and yet the thin layers of paint reveal the artist's primal, cathartic impulse -quite a departure from her longtime practice of methodically reworking a canvas. The title of the present work, Double Helix, could refer to Krasner's organic forms and interwoven brushstrokes. The composition is filled with dynamic brushwork, grand sweeping arcs of black that connect with short, feathered yet vigorous strokes of white and maroon. Raw canvas peeks through in areas, further enhancing the appearance of movement and depth. The title's figurative meaning, however, contemplates the structure of DNA, the code of human life; the mystery of creation.
According to Landau, "It was in connection with Assault on the Solar Plexus [catalogue raisonné no. 359, painted within close proximity to Double Helix] that Krasner remarked to writer Cindy Nemser in 1973, 'My painting is so biographical, if anyone can take the trouble to read it'. This assertion is most easily proved by an examination of CR343-66 [the Umber Paintings]. By using these pictures as vehicles to express the ongoing, and to all appearances death-defying, continuity of her tempestuous relationship with Pollock, Krasner exposed in a particularly poignant way the deeply personal roots of her artistic impulse. In the process, she produced a dramatic set of canvases whose mythic, explosive quality vividly projects her turmoil and inner rage" (E. Landau, Lee Krasner: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1995, p. 182).