I had been meaning to visit this Helen Frankenthaler show at Dulwich Picture Gallery since it opened several months ago and finally made it. It’s a hugely impressive exhibition which I highly recommend.
Low lighting levels and the use of reflective glass made it hard to get more than a hint of the work so apologies in advance for my photos. Even the images in the catalogue couldn’t do justice to the subtlety of colouring. It reminded me that art has to be seen in real life to be properly appreciated. I feel that about images of my work online – you only see about 30% of the piece.
Since this is the best many of us get though, let’s go on to talk about process. As Frankenthaler herself famously said “the only rule is that there are no rules”. Her woodcuts had an astonishing number of colours, up to 102 at one point, in order to get the subtleties she required.
She sometimes made maquettes as you can see in the photo above and below. They were then translated into prints in collaboration with a team of master printers to create a limited edition. See how the mark-making changes yet retains the same spirit.
Something that is a core element of my art practice is experimentation. It’s refreshing to see how this process, a key part of Frankenthaler’s printmaking, was shown in the exhibition. One of her prints, Essence Mulberry, went through about 60 iterations before she created a final piece.
Asking questions, exploring possibilities, these are all part of the process and often omitted in an art show.
The 31 colour woodcut below, Weeping Crabapple (2009), was based on a drawing from 1995 and was the last print produced before her death.