Helen Frankthaler's 'Savage Breeze.'(woodcut), 1974 "You can talk about light, scale, depth, beauty, colour, shape, form, perspective, whatever, but it's none of, or no formula of, those things that make a terrific picture terrific or a dead picture dead"
Hey, I.G., hope all is good on your end. In the late eighties when I was a young printmaking student at art college the two books that I studied like the dharma were, "The Spontaneous Gesture: Prints and Books of the Abstract Expressionist Era" and "Helen Frankenthaler Prints, 1961-1979". They were the two wings that held my art aloft. The Spontaneous Gesture was the physical side, my actual output. Frankenthaler polished my aesthetic, refined my taste, and to some degree, showed me what was 'not me'. At the time, I could never have created prints in her style, it was completely out of my experience. But they were hypnotising in their beauty. Each print an expanse that somehow held together, many things may be happening but the work would be whole. How did she do it? Who knows? I'm reminded of the John Berger quote, "I cannot explain why, any more than I explain why a swarm of bees always has a kind of symmetry." She was an innovative printmaker. "Whatever the medium, there is the difficulty, challenge, fascination and often productive clumsiness of learning a new method: the wonderful puzzles and problems of translating with new materials." The 1970s saw a resurgence of interest in the woodcut in the US and Helen Frankenthaler was no exception. She didn't jump on the bandwagon of printmaking, she was never that kind of artist, she believed, "art has a will of its own. It has nothing to do with the taste of the moment or what's expected of you. That's a formula for dead art, or fashionable art." What she saw was its potential for her own work and her interest in colour. Her first foray into woodcut was difficult, she admitted, it was the hardest print medium for her. Printmaking is process-oriented and the artist must think of end-results, plan the method of achieving that result, and make her way back. "It is work and no fun every minute," she said.