Abstract Critical

Turner and Frankenthaler

Written by Emyr Williams

Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner, installation view at Turner Contemporary. Photo Stephen White

Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner, installation view at Turner Contemporary. Photo Stephen White

‘Making Painting’ has just opened at Turner Contemporary in Margate. This is an eye-catching exhibition pairing the initially curious twosome of JMW Turner and Helen Frankenthaler – separated by over a hundred years but united in their… in their… handling of paint? Response to landscape? Exploration of light? The romantic sublime? According to curator and Turner scholar James Hamilton: it started out as ‘Ten artists and Turner’ and as time passed names began being shed until a final playoff which saw Frankenthaler win through. A sort of painterly X Factor then. Upon consideration though one can see the logic and it was more about a “gut feeling” of two artists that could work rather than an explicit relationship of say, style, theme or geography. Curation by gut feeling – now that is a novelty!

Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner, installation view at Turner Contemporary. Photo Stephen White

Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner, installation view at Turner Contemporary. Photo Stephen White

In this country we are blissfully aware of Turner as a landscape artist par-excellence. Forever tied to the name of Constable, their place in the nation’s hearts is secure. The Clore Gallery is a temple to his vast and prodigious output. Frankenthaler on the other hand is quite sparsely represented on these shores, championed mainly by lower-profile abstract painters (unfortunately synonymous terms). Her work has a historical aura about it which reaches almost mythological proportions, with the usual line about being a “bridge between Pollock and what was possible” floating in the ether whenever her groovy signature is in sight. I have always found it endearing that she signed her works so often when most of her contemporaries favoured the back of the canvas – a link with older traditions perhaps? Frankenthaler was a passionate student of painting, a competitive artist and one who saw herself as part of its continuum.

Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner, installation view at Turner Contemporary. Photo Stephen White

Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner, installation view at Turner Contemporary. Photo Stephen White

The two artists are represented by paintings and watercolours. In fact, water is one clear link between them: the way it carries colour, extending its reach into the corners, lapping against the edges, the bleeding and flowing of pigmented washes, suggestive of form or simply evocative of place as felt experience. It seems entirely appropriate therefore, that the show be held looking out on the spectacular backdrop of the North Sea on its way to meet with the English Channel. The gallery has light flooding in to its spaces and that mesmeric tidal flow framed by massive windows – nature’s own watercolour. What an engaging exhibition to conceive of and what a great place to put it on. It needs to be stated that entry is free.

Each artist is given different rooms with only a joining corridor space providing an eye level meeting of their works. This space creates quite a jump to the eye – partly due to the size differences of the works in there.  Frankenthaler needed to work big to get the maximum out of her techniques, and although a painterly relationship with Turner is there, it would have been a step too far to hang their works side by side. The closest we get is a view through to an easel sized Frankenthaler framed by two Turners, one each side of the entrance / exit wall. 

JMW Turner, The Evening Star, 1830, oil on canvas, © The National Gallery, London. Turner Bequest, 1856

JMW Turner, The Evening Star, 1830, oil on canvas, © The National Gallery, London. Turner Bequest, 1856

The hanging is sensitive and well thought out. Turner is.. Turner, dazzling in watercolour, assured and masterly in panorama and still surprising when he lets rip with those instantly recognisable impastoed passages which dissolve form and create luminous whorls.  The usual soft, whitened chrome yellow is everywhere as are the trademark blue-brown ensembles.  The easy gestures of his watercolours sometimes become wrestling matches in the paintings in oil. It’s quite a different ball-game to get luminosity with oil paint and that familiar brushed arc has to be reigned in to stop it killing the space or becoming over wrought and contrived. One of the most beautiful works is when the handling is at its most sober then – the unfinished ‘”The Evening Star” with a gentle broken, curvy flick of light lifting off the horizon; light breaking through the leaden distant cloud. Where sea meets sky, the liminal calm and crystalline wetness of – fittingly – the Margate beach. A quiet masterpiece.  I mused what he would have made of Frankenthaler’s work and even more so how would he have painted today? Would he still be painting landscapes? I wonder if it was landscape as a theme which eventually allowed him to paint as he wanted to paint, rather than always wanting to paint landscapes per se. The title of the show seems to reinforce this point. This is an exhibition that deals with how paintings get made rather than any specifics of subject matter. Many of Frankenthaler’s quotes about her work could equally have been uttered by Turner -”There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.”

Helen Frankenthaler, Hotel Cro-Magnon, Courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum

Helen Frankenthaler, Hotel Cro-Magnon, Courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum

Frankenthaler’s best works in this show are when there is some kind of pictorial drama in them. “For EM” being a standout work. An adumbration of a Manet painting of a fish (hence the title). As in the work “Hotel Cro-Magnon”, in the rooms dedicated to her work from the 50s. The dramatic use of black at the top as a device energises the rest of the picture. In the way also that Matisse did just before these works, with “The Snail” in 1953.  It is easy to read her paintings solely as abstractions from something – especially places, but this is too simplistic an approach and tends to close, rather than, open doors; it also blocks any deeper interrogation of the work. Working on canvases on the floor to stain colour and then hoisting them up to view will naturally create a swing between depth perceptions – the approach also often produces recessive landscape-esque vistas.  Many of the bigger works set up these sorts of deep spaces, created through tonal washes as much as changes of hue. The space is brought back up to a foreground of sorts, with dollops of paint and smaller incidents.  Whilst I can see the results lending themselves to allusion and even forgive her embracing of ambiguity, I have a nagging doubt that one cannot control intentions as much as onlookers think – especially ambiguous ones. The spaces that are created here, are simply what happens when you mop in acrylic: it floods, puddles and fades in places. She clearly went with this and sought expression in response to these consequences. After this, any manner of subject-matter can be bolted on.

Helen Frankenthaler, Overture, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Helen Frankenthaler, Overture, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

There are two questions here I feel. One: could she have fought more against the nature of her materials, resisted the easy stain effects – as good as a lot of the ‘drawing’ in them is – could an even greater synthesis have been found? Two: is there any lesson for painters today? I am inclined to answer yes to both.  I would say that Frankenthaler can be an uneven painter; this is a result of her sheer honesty and openness to her materials. At times, she did clearly go looking for the awkward, the uncomfortable, but also couldn’t always stop the facile from creeping in. “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.” This is the trade off. You have to sift through much grit to get the gold. The works have some delightful qualities though: the sheer pleasure in seeing large areas of washed in colour is such a refreshing sight and one in sharp counterpoint to much of today’s mini, faux-rustic abstract paintings. I fondly remember back in the day how many students used to work à la Frankenthaler, never really following it up after graduating though. Often as not the post degree studio spaces dictating otherwise.

Frankenthaler’s paintings have that familiar languid-like quality that is so seductive, yet at times their force can dissipate and the colour can look a bit washed out. As a consequence, some of the lighter hued works didn’t age as well. Maybe it was the simple fade of early manufactured acrylic giving them a sort of veil of time quality or was it their lack of more dramatic contrasts? The colour is more often than not beautifully pitched in her paintings. Cool and warm secondary colours swim about softened primaries. Yet it is when earth pigments are introduced that things really start to happen.  Umbers, rusts, greys and blacks all add gravity to the works. I enjoy seeing her paintings with full out primaries but they don’t seem as comfortably felt as when earths are used. It seems that the use of organic hues was more naturally suited to the emotional ambition and climate of her best paintings.

Helen Frankenthaler, Burnt Norton, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Helen Frankenthaler, Burnt Norton, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“Burnt Norton” has an overtly landscape configuration but again I am not convinced by this as a straightforward reading. It seems more akin to the work of Kenneth Noland from around the early 70s with floods of colour and incidents at top and bottom of the picture – in Noland’s case these would be thin stripes spanning the width. Frankenthaler takes on board the serial qualities of Noland without ever buying into the process. She wanted more surprises I guess. Her paintings have a similar classicism to Noland with an understated symmetry. I would not consider her as a fully paid up colour field painter. Her centre of gravity seemed to remain as more a ‘chromatic abstract expressionist’ (second generation).  Of course, she became famous for those fields of washed colour but invariably they are charged by the gestural, which serves the colour, supports it and often animates the interaction between different layers of colours. Her strength was in her quite overt drawing as much as it was in her colour.

“For EM” was a work from 1981 when she was a massively experienced painter but it is the room of paintings from the ‘50s that held so much surprise. The linear brush marks, the hesitancy of decisions, probing and problematical in equal measure, are all so revealing. This quote seemed to sum them up: “You have to know how to use the accident, how to recognise it, how to control it, and ways to eliminate it so that the whole surface looks felt and born all at once.”

JMW Turner, Thompson’s Aeolian Harp 1809, © Manchester City Galleries

JMW Turner, Thompson’s Aeolian Harp 1809, © Manchester City Galleries

Turner by comparison has so much technique that one can almost feel his angst in trying to work against his own facility of touch, to avoid cliché and to get to… himself, to stretch himself and find what he could do with paint that no other could. Also a fiercely competitive artist, he needed to go up against the Old Masters to get that spark going. The painting “Thompson’s Aeolian Harp”, 1809, is an earlier more restrained work with an almost malevolent use of green; it is acidic and simmers brilliantly. There is a surprising double repoussoir with the second tree at the right edge – I am not aware of even Poussin ever doing something like that. Competition and travel: he painted so many works in so many places that it looked like he could paint them in his sleep. Weather became his wake-up call. Storms, gales and winds or blazing suns produced more agitated responses, his brush marks get looser and the colours get more undefined.  The more familiar gestural ones eschew green – that most inert of colours – and whip up their vortices with creams, browns and blues. In all the works though he never lets go of unity. The calmer skies in a Turner can at first glance seem spare – emptied of clouds in the way that Constable’s rarely do – yet they never lose any pace in their colour. There are no holes or unwieldy passages of paint. The pastel hues being so deft and airy – again this comes straight out of watercolour, allied with a consummate technique.

JMW Turner, Stormy Sea Breaking on a Shore, 1840-45, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

JMW Turner, Stormy Sea Breaking on a Shore, 1840-45, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

In the watercolours, however, it is the paper ground that achieves this light. Here again we can turn to Frankenthaler, for she stains colour in and it is the way the ground colour glows through that gives her work its luminosity. It was thus peculiar to see a work like “Barometer” from 1992 – the one in the corridor framed by the Turners, which felt almost like an oil painting in approach and one with which I struggled the most. This painting seemed to be too directly a seascape, rather than suggestive of something palpable as informed by nature… maybe it was too Turner ‘lite’? Clearly this was why it was hung where it was.  Was that decision maybe a bit whimsical though – trying too hard to choreograph the viewers’ response? Also the colours were all heading the same way, whereas in the better works they are often playing in different key signatures yet still end up in harmony.

Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner, installation view at Turner Contemporary. Photo Stephen White

Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner, installation view at Turner Contemporary. Photo Stephen White

We are blessed with amazing Turners in Britain, but Frankenthaler is long overdue a major show in this country. Her work may not be so much a bridge to what is possible these days, perhaps more a well trodden path, yet it is still one which could lead to undiscovered lands.

Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW is on at Turner Contemporary until 11 May

  1. Patrick Jones said…

    Well done Peter for going to see the show,which makes so much more sense of the debate.There is nothing like standing in front of a painting making up your own mind about how it feels to you.So much better without a pre-conceived plan of the universe,or set of art hysterical theories.I just saw the Paul Klee ,which is in its last days at he Tate and was blown away.Best Patrick

    • Peter Stott said…

      I think both these artists set out with an attempt to use the medium of paint to describe something as opposed to painting that aims to describe/be itself. In contrast to this art, is abstract illusionism; which is a form of the worst of both worlds. I’ve attempted to put a link here: http://youtu.be/duzkZ2W-Gtg to a video critique (spontaneous)of abstract illusionism, that might be of interest as another context of this show. It’s less than 2 mins long.

  2. Zino Pece said…

    Not seen this exhibition yet, but Look forward to doing so. A great and rare opportunity to see Frankenthsler on this scale here in Britain. Surprised though that she alone was chosen alongside Turner. If only going for one abstract painter, I think Morris Louis or Olitski would have been a better choice. I think that Frankenthaler is worth seeing though; very influential and a vital link between Ab. Ex. And Colour Field. Also most definately an influences on several British abstract painters. As great as Turner was, I think Constable was just as good, is sadly underrated and hangs in the shadow of Turner.

    • Peter Stott said…

      Having just seen the show, I can see the connection, both start off with the same essential flux of primordial matter, which Turner augments and Frankenthaler doesn’t, the viewer is left to bring their own resolutions of form to the perception of the Frankenthaler paintings whereas with Turner he tries to do that for the viewer, though obviously not so simple and straightforward as that. Looking forward to another visit soon. Also, it’s interesting to actually see a show debated on Abstract Critical.

  3. Patrick Jones said…

    Always glad to ruffle a few feathers as it seems to get the best out of everybody!Less Cromwellian ,clodhopping bigotary masquerating as knowledge and a big more Objectivety!I just think its worth a look at how Frankenthaler derived her idea of Cubism from Hoffmann’s school,and tried to use it when working in an extremely fluid manner on the floor.It might have been a lot worse in a less discerning artist like Paul Jenkins.Helen trod a line between firm control and a bon-vivant feel good factor.Thats a very interesting and complex position for an artist to find themselves in.I dont think you can overthrow the cultural and historical hand you are dealt .Just do your own thing ,make the most of it and be extremely positive in attitude and deed.No offence!

    • Tania said…

      Agreed….a bit more bon-vivant feel good factor please!….(just finished Provisional Painting: Three Hypotheses….makes for a bit of a grim, though no doubt salutary, read….)

  4. Robin Greenwood said…

    To make my position a little clearer: I think Frankenthaler’s transcription of the Manet (for E.M.) is a very poor and predictable painting, and her borrowing from figurative compositions (“colour and line” etc.) is in no way helpful to abstract art. It’s a similar cop-out to Caro’s desire to get some of the aura of the old-masters to rub off on him by borrowing superficial arrangements of shapes from Rubens, Manet etc., or Bridget Riley thinking she can distil the design-essence of great figurative paintings into a few diagonals and geometric shapes. This sort of appropriation does nothing to increase or deepen the content of any of their work, and is in the end yet another shallow manifestation of “taste”, with the artists acting as connoisseurs. The point and meaning of great figurative art is in its very specificness, not in its generalities, and that specificness cannot be sequestered.

    I’m very much against borrowing anything from even the very best figurative painting, other than a desire to match that level of ambition and visual achievement. The inspiring values and downright visceral excitement achieved by Constable, Turner, Manet and company in their best paintings can be used to counter to our own vanity and complacency about abstract art – but new abstract art has got to find its own way and its own new forms and inventions.

    • Ben Wiedel-Kaufmann said…

      Does this apply to Manet’s sequestering of Old Masters also? Surely the act of borrowing is a fair bit more complex than a Yes/No referendum? And while we’re on Manet – is there not a fair bit of excitement in precisely his ambiguity – rather than specificness?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        I don’t think it does apply to Manet, because he is figurative, but even he had to find his own forms. His “Balcony” scene, as an example off the top of my head, does not rely on proportions or compositional devices lifted from Goya. Is there an example that does?

        Is Manet ambiguous? In his best paintings? Is it not another instance of figurative indeterminacy or simplification? I would agree the spaces in his paintings are often “weird”, but that doesn’t mean they are not specific, does it?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        …bearing in mind that the specificness of a space or thing in painting can totally embrace indeterminacy or a lack of “literal” detail. For extreme example, Matisse!

      • Ben Wiedel-Kaufmann said…

        I am enjoying much of what is coming out in this discussion – though must also point out I am yet to see the show. The impossibility of sketches is another topic emerging I am uncertain of.

        But back to Manet – yes of course he relies on compositional devices lifted off others. The most famous being Raphael and Titian in Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe, but others include Rubens and Caracci in La Pêche, Chardin in The Luncheon, etc etc. Michael Fried’s study on Manet is loaded with these – perhaps at times too loaded – but I think his general point, that Manet lifted a great deal, is a strong, near incontestable one. It seems particularly interesting to me when seen in the context of the increasing accessibility of reproductions and museum collections in the 19th century.

        Re ambiguity in Manet – going from two postcards pinned in front of me – 1. Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe – the patch of grass around the reclining man’s arm seems highly spatially ambiguous – though perhaps you would argue indeterminate? (where do you draw the line here? in being able to say ‘grass’??). But what then of the stretch behind the midground bather, where exactly does water meet land, at what distance? and where does the brown change from midground to extreme rear?
        (All this ambiguous spatial recession seems to emerge first in La Peche (c. 1862-3) but that is not, I don’t think, Manet at his best).

        2. National Gallery Corner Concert – what, or where exactly, is that blue that the dancer is floating in (I’ll leave aside the black smudges on the woman’s face as a different type of ambiguity).

        And then there is Bar at the Folies Bergere, which seems awash with ambiguity – though again not all spatial..

        I can imagine that the reply might come in the form that this is all indeterminate and not ambiguous? But what is the meaningful difference here?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        I bow to your superior knowledge, though I did say that Manet being figurative makes a difference – all the difference, in fact. And yet I’m inclined to say about “Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe”, a painting I know quite well, that Manet certainly didn’t copy or even transcribe proportions or compositional devices, so much as ripped the subject-matter/idea, then did his own thing, as he usually did. But our debate was really about the usefulness of an abstract painter taking lines, shapes, compositional divisions etc. from a figurative source. That still seems to me to be essentially a dubious move. Maybe it’s worth trying once, but I can’t think of any good results from it, and I certainly didn’t like the Frankenthaler/Manet.

        I think my point about figurative indeterminacy and abstract ambiguity is a good one. It results from previous discussions about whether ambiguity is ever good in abstract art, because if you allow it to be a positive attribute, you open the does to any and every inanity, as we can see in a great deal of poor abstract painting. Why is it poor? And what is the meaningful difference? Well, like anything else it is subject to a case-by-case appraisal of values, and can’t be defined in a cast-iron way. Is Manet ambiguous? Of course, often. He’s often not very good either. Maybe those two things are linked, even in Manet. “Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe” is not, for me, a successful painting. “Bar at the Follies Bergere” is by contrast a great painting, with very weird spaces and conjunctions, but as a painting, very specific. I wouldn’t agree that the excitement of this painting is down to ambiguity. It has problems in its definition of space, but they seem to be overcome by a strength of vision which is, in this instance, very sure of itself.

        But I don’t really want to argue about Manet, especially not with an art historian. It will be interesting to hear what you think when you see the show. Look out for a small almost-monochrome watercolour by Turner of a wave rolling in to shore (with a boat, a horizon, and not much else) where the wave is represented by a zigzag mark right across the paper on a slight diagonal. It is an action of great immediacy – and specificness. It is pointed and pertinent as an act of figurative painting, but I would insist that the experience is fundamentally of a different order from looking at a zigzag line in an abstract painting. The Turner does not give abstract painting the legitimacy to do zigzag lines, willy-nilly.

    • Sam said…

      “I’m very much against borrowing anything from even the very best figurative painting, other than a desire to match that level of ambition and visual achievement.” –

      I’m with Patrick in the sense that the the flip-side of the above statement seems to be (at times) a use of the achievements of figurative art simply as a tool to attack the abstract art you don’t like, rather than within any reasoned analysis…

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        So perhaps maybe you think Patrick has provided a far more reasoned analysis than my original comment? I beg to differ. I think you sort of kind of possibly at times want to just disagree with me, whatever.

        What do you seemingly think of the work (at times)?

      • Sam said…

        I just think it can be a bit easy to pick the great art of the past and use it to belittle current or recent work, without recognizing that they cannot be completely understood under the same terms, particularly ignoring the fact that abstraction has different aims. (I think the positive side of this, as shown in this exhibition, where Turner is uncritically used to validate Frankenthaler is also problematic).

        This is not to do with intent, but reception – of course I’m giving you a chance to trot out the connoisseur line, but there you go…

        I mean could we fairly and sensibly compare your sculpture to, say, Canova, without taking into account historical prejudices or personal taste?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Not sure I follow – abstraction has different aims, but it’s not to do with intent? I don’t think I know what the aims are, nor do I know what the intent of either artist is. Do you? Maybe it is a bit easy to browbeat recent stuff with the best ever, but I didn’t pick the show, I just compared the work, as I found it. And would you rather we just complacently said, in our present circumstances, everythings great? Or should we be inspired to better things?

        I’m happy to have my sculpture compared with Canova, or anything, with as little contextual stuff as possible in the mix, especially if there was to be some advantage to be gained.

      • Emyr Williams said…

        Here’s a pertinent quote from Greenberg:..”Not that the work of the modern artist must by any means resemble the past; but that he must show some sense of it, a realisation of its presence and attraction. Otherwise he dissipates himself in sheer quality and fails to impose that order and shaping which are the indispensable concomitants of high art, and without which the truly cultivated spectator is left thirsty. High art resumes everything that precedes it, otherwise it is less than high.”

  5. Patrick Jones said…

    Well that makes everything all right then,Robin.Emyr and yourself can go home feeling smug that John Constable is a great artist[ his informal cloud studies are amongst his best work].No mention of the Analytical Cubism, which is everywhere in Frankenthaler,no mention of cropping ,something the English never really understood,apart from a passing shot ,no discussion of the importance of Pollock/Frankenthaler/Louis et al.use of the floor to wall trajectory which is American paintings contribution to Abstraction.Even Emyrs snipe at Frankenthalers signature never mentions her marriage to Motherwell ,with whom one can assume she discussed this.Sometimes I doubt England is any more ripe now than in 1911 for a revival of great Abstract Art due to its cosy attitudes and complacency.I do see Turner as the pre-cursor to Abstraction,thank god otherwise we would be stuck with a world of hay-wains!Its enough to make you want to make you want to cross the yard ,take off your wellies and settle down by the Aga with a cup of tea and the Archers!

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      Patrick! It’s you who are the old romantic. When did you actually last look at a Constable? 1959? Do you actually know any other paintings than the Haywain? And by the way, I have no ****ing attachment to history painting. Did I mention the Aeolian harp in my critique? No. I don’t even know what it is. I did what you said you were going to do, but didn’t – compared the spatial qualities of the two painters. I await your contribution to that specific debate. I care nothing for who Frankenthaler was ****ing married to, for god’s sake.

      I think the complacency is all yours – you are totally in thrall to Greenberg’s very limited concept of modernist abstract painting, which is a far more conservative ethos than any embraced by Constable. And you are predictably wrong about the cloud studies – it’s another conceit to think they presage impressionism, and your view of them is naive. They are studies for something far more ambitious. Constable is amongst the most radical of all painters in the history of art, and that status is down to his big six-footers, where he accomplished some of the most ravishing pictorial structures ever seen in painting. Go look again, old boy. Look and learn. There is absolutely nothing in Constable that is going to make you comfortable, once you start looking. He will screw the shit out of anyone. Frankenthaler will confirm your prejudices; Constable will demolish them.

    • Emyr Williams said…

      Not sniping at all on her “groovy signature” – clue is in the adjective. When was analytical cubism a spatial virtue too? BTW, Greenberg was a fan of Meisonnier’s cavalry charges. Cropping: no hang ups about that, though it was done to death by poorer artists. Patrick Heron writes well on it. I was pretty positive about Frankenthaler’s work yet tried to be critical in a constructive way as in accord with the ethos of this site. I am blissfully smug about Constable because the terra is pretty firma and Aeolian harps are played by the wind.

    • Emyr Williams said…

      Patrick, apart from her tasty Manet smoothie, Frankenthaler, as I’m sure you know , often looked to old Master art for inspiration – take for example her “Hint from Bassano” and Bassano’s “Miraculous Draft of the Fishes” which she seems to have taken the hint from. Also Mantegna’s “Agony in the Garden” blended up and diluted becomes Mountains and Sea. Suddenly its all starting to look like “horlicks abstraction.”
      To her credit though she said: ” I often look at an old master not in terms of its subject matter, but of the placement of colour and line” And as an artist, not as a critic or writer, I want to get at why- what’s making this work? …Constable is quite the young hepcat by comparison it would seem – very …now!
      (Sorry can’t get the links in)

  6. Patrick Jones said…

    Thank you Robin for a very clear revelation of your attachment to figurative history painting,in relation to recent Abstraction.Hopefully Ill have the opportunity to respond more fully,and robustly on this site shortly.

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      I did what you asked, Patrick. I examined the spatial qualities of the two artists and one was found wanting.

      • Tania said…

        ‘Since we can’t really do preparatory drawings and studied rehearsals in abstract art, the only way forward is to spend far more time working on individual paintings than previously considered sufficient: (RG)’

        Despite knowing Robin is not a fan of the work of Hans Hartung I’d just like to quote from ‘Hans Hartung: In the Beginning was Lightning’*

        ‘The surprising fact about Hartung, and one that has not yet been investigated, is that during the period 1930-1962 (though excluding the years of war and suffering) using gestural painting as a starting point, he created an infinite number of drawings, ink sketches and watercolours that he later transferred into oils on canvas.’

        The catalogue from which this is quoted then lays out seven examples of initial sketches next to the finished oil. The change in scale was, for example, from 27.5 x 37.5 cm for a sketch to 90 cm x 117 cm for a finished painting. The works are remarkable, even in reproduction, particularly those using ink scaled up to oil.

        I’m enjoying this debate and hope to go the exhibition if we’re not completely cut off by flooding here in the west of England. The space argument is interesting but shouldn’t Cubism be in there somewhere? From what I know of Frankenthaler she was very influenced by this approach to spatial arrangements. Comparing work by pre and post-Cubist painters is always going to raise debate…..

        *Amnon Barzel, Cristiano Isnardi (published in conjunction with The Milan Triennale 2006)

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        I’m afraid, Tania, that Hartung’s paintings are more of an indictment than a recommendation of preparatory drawings etc. Keep dry!

      • Tania said…


        ‘I’ve never thought of myself as much of a fan of Turner in the past (and I still think he is not in the top rank with Constable), and I am very set against attributing to him a precedent for the ubiquitous ambiguities of abstraction, as Patrick and other seem to want to do. I think my point about the difference between figurative indeterminacy and abstract ambiguity is key, and very much relates to your question of “shifts from space to detail”, as you interestingly put it. This problem I see as not a case of lack of technique so much as of imagination, which would drive technique. It can only really be answered in painting, rather than hypothetically; whether different kinds of spaces (from deep to shallow?) can be accommodated, related, and made particular (which might be the same thing as “detailing”) in a singular abstract painting is an exciting area to be looking to. Since we can’t really do preparatory drawings and studied rehearsals in abstract art, the only way forward is to spend far more time working on individual paintings than previously considered sufficient: yes, at the expense of all that empty canvas, thin technique and limpid beauty, because the quickness and offhandedness of most sixties stuff is one of my major criticisms of the Frankenthaler ethos’

        I’m sorry Robin but what do you mean ‘keep dry’? Do you mean ‘keep your pen dry’ i.e. don’t make any further contributions? If this is your meaning, is it an accurate reflection of the site’s ethos? (a bit disheartening if it is…) Moving on, Hartung wasn’t alone in working from preparatory drawings he’s just one example of a particular approach which is not perhaps to your liking but no less valid for that. You seem to be implying only one approach is sufficient or capable of rendering an abstract painting of merit. If this is the case it abnegates experimentation making the ‘progress’ in abstract art you so passionately advocate all the more difficult.

        Turner v. Constable. Both of these artists have been cited as producing proto-Modernist work by a number of different critics and scholars. How useful is it to set-up rankings between Old Masters when each of them has created works which have inspired their admirers? The rest of the passage I’ve re-quoted here (I don’t seem to be able to add this comment next to the original as no ‘reply’ key has been set-up) is quite difficult to unpin in order to get to what you are trying to say. Surely cubism was an attempt to ‘accommodate, relate and make particular’ different kinds of spaces. In the early development of (recent Western European) abstract art an alternative ‘imaginative’ approach to painting’s structure was Orphism (ref. Delauney) which perhaps could offer up some of the alternatives you’re after. The fact that you find fault with Twombly (I will try and re-read your essay on this) and Frankenthaler is possibly related to a suspicion of spontaneity and its attendant so-called ‘simplification’ (which would also explain the hostility expressed towards Hartung). This would also go some way in explaining the (outmoded) reasoning that to achieve a certain stature in an abstract painting it needs to be worked and reworked. It would be good to read Emyr’s response to all these comments at some point.

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        I meant keep dry from the floods…

        But my question to Sam remains on the table… what are you going to draw before you start an abstract painting or sculpture? Are you going to scribble an abstract doodle?

        I don’t think what I am saying in any way narrows down the number of approaches to abstract painting. I think the opposite. When you start a painting from nothing, it could go anywhere, and the discovery of form is a live adventure. All I am saying is, don’t pull up short of finding new form, carry on further than the norm in abstract painting.

        Did Hartung really did do lots of sketches, then expand one up to painting scale? I think your argument needs better examples than Hartung of preparatory drawings leading to good abstract art.

      • Tania said…

        Robin, will get around to responding to this (just need to read the Twombly essay first)…I live near Worcester city half of which is currently cut-off with trees keeling over into the river Severn so keeping dry (sorry I did misunderstand this!) is a bit of an issue….

      • Emyr said…

        In the seventies there was a brilliant comedy on British TV called “Steptoe and Son” (transferred to the US under the name of “Sandford and Son” – I think.). One episode saw the old git of a father teach Harold the son how to ballroom dance for a competition. After the event Harold storms back in saying how humiliated he was. “You taught me the bleedin woman’s part!… we stood there facing one another and when the music started up, both of us backed away!!”
        When you start painting, you immediately begin a wrestling match with taste. You see a juicy piece of colour or an area that seems to work delightfully. At this point it’s sort of the ‘sponge cake mix’ phase – it needs some fire. You have to cut through taste and get into the area of perception. At least that is what the greatest artists have done. I pretty much agree with most of Robin’s comments (apart from the comparison with Ayres as I was unable to get to the Hastings show so will reserve judgement there). Ironically it was only a couple of days ago that I was marvelling at Constable’s ‘Flatford Mill’ which has a miraculous surging rendition of space through to cows in a field and beyond (it also has a weird skyline on the far left side) Frankenthaler and Turner both ‘back away’ from you by comparison – a heck of a comparison granted. I have known and respected Frankenthaler’s work for over 25 years, without really being a huge fan – As a student it was Morris Louis who captured my attention, Noland too and I was lucky enough to work with him in Canada (learning a massive amount). Like her , their best work is never seen here, so a glimpse of something like this is great. It is an art rooted in taste and although there is that “abstracted from” element I do not think this interpretation does her or anyone else trying that, any favours. People will have a go at my use of the word “facile” I’m sure, but again I think Robin’s picking out of one example of a hastily decided spray of pink to check the greens makes my point clearly enough. “Capturing space” is an easy-on-the-eye route and lots of people out there will love it I’m sure. It’s seductive. “Generating space” is a different ball game though. Are these Frankenthalers “great” art ?…no. Are they worth the trip to see – absolutely ! Her work will get the headlines due to rarity and she does deserve a big show here. I will make another trip for sure. Turner is an amazing painter, not as amazing as Constable in my humble opinion , but he was clearly a man with a phenomenal technique and… great taste. PS. Sorry Robin , my aphorisms are fleeting again!

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        “Flatford Mill” – awesome painting! Possibly JC’s best, though quite early. Less sure of Steptoe and Son…

      • Tania said…


        Having now read ‘The Abstract-ness of Poussin’ I’m beginning to appreciate your point of view. What comes across in this review is a strong sense of frustration with the lack of spatial and painterly depth and richness in Twombly’s work; a failing which seemingly became all the more apparent when his work was hung beside that of Poussin. Part of your reaction appears to be due to a paucity of visually satisfying, and also erotically charged, experience. I’m sympathetic. Howard Jacobson (Channel 4, some time ago) made a not too dissimilar point when he argued that Victorian painting allowed for the expression of the sensual (and the erotic) life, a core human experience. He too felt this has been diminished in contemporary art (with feminist theory being a possible culprit for the purge); a valid observation.

        In the Poussin review frustration is also expressed with overtly designed work (ref. Bridget Riley) and with a sort of painterly mannerism rooted in calligraphy rather than image. This explains the criticism of Twombly and Hartung. Frankenthaler’s approach sits (uncomfortably perhaps?) somewhere between calligraphy and image which makes her a better painter than Twombly but not that good….

        Re. preliminary sketches and re-working a painting. Yes, Hartung did work up large canvases directly from small sketches and this was part of his practice for thirty years or so (weren’t Constable’s oil sketches cited in the argument for his ‘abstract-ness’ too?). As for re-working the same painting de Kooning is a useful example of a practitioner who did just that but I’m sorry I remain unconvinced that this is a way forward in the development (I hesitate to write ‘progress’) of abstract painting.

        Back to the responses to the Turner/Frankenthaler exhibition. I too was surprised to read that Frankenthaler has elicited more reaction than Turner. As I haven’t been yet I’m not altogether sure why but perhaps its simply related to Frankenthaler’s use of colour. Colour is a greatly neglected area in contemporary art and is more or less non-existent in art education (one tutor told me colour ‘got in the way’!). In ‘Ornamentation and Abstraction’ the critic Phillippe Buttner makes the case for colour (via textiles) as the active element in defining spatial relations in the work of Matisse. Perhaps this may be useful to consider in Sam’s ‘shifts of space’. Another, more recent, practitioner who may also be relevant to this question is Emily Kame Kngwarreye. In a work such as ‘Kame – Summer Awelye 1’ (1991, 304 cm x 121 cm, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia) the artist employs colour alone, and in amazing richness and depth, to render the spatial complexity and vastness of her homeland. As the army is currently on stand-by against the flooding here in Worcestershire perhaps watercolour should now have a major revival!

      • Tania said…

        I made a couple of errors in my previous reply. The Buttner essay is to be found in ‘Ornament and Abstraction’ (Fondation Beyeler, 2001) and Howard Jacobson’s survey of Victorian fantasy painting may have been transmitted on ITV not Channel 4.

        One reason for mentioning Hartung’s working method is that it offers a counterbalance to the common criticism (Robin’s ‘off-handedness’, Lichtenstein’s brush stroke painting etc.) of tachisme, abstract expressionism et al that it lacks obvious ‘effort’, ‘labour’ and ‘skill’ (i.e. technical virtuosity); the implication being that the painting’s audience is in someway being duped (artist as con-artist). Hartung’s T1958-3 sketch and corresponding painting are useful examples in countering this. Re-working the same canvas can simply be used as a way of justifying abstract painting within a culture dominated by the figurative tradition. By putting overt ‘effort’ into a singular painting both the work, and the visual experience of it, apparently gains additional ‘value’. That this may result in visual confusion for its audience is the risk the artist takes with this approach (a criticism of de Kooning). The issue of effort versus spontaneity goes back to at least Ruskin, driving the critic to such distraction with Whistler he took him to court over it (hopefully this won’t happen on AbCrit…!). A serious legacy of the play-off between these approaches is that abstract art continues to be dogged by a perceptual issue; admiration of (apparently) spontaneous mark-making is not a problem for the Chinese and Japanese for example.

        On that other subject, colour, exhibitions such as Colour/Boundary are great but the crux of the matter is art education. Colour is not on the curriculum in the UK (well it wasn’t when I was at college) and its doubtful ever will be again. That this has contributed to the de-sensualisation of contemporary art is probably true but the world we now inhabit is one of increasing distance and anonymity and contemporary art (including those ‘casual’ and ‘provisional’ abstract paintings) naturally expresses and reflects this. Perhaps a reaction to all these screens, pcs, laptops, smart phones, flatscreen TVs etc. is setting in and people are now looking for real visual, even visceral, cultural experiences which explains the (generally) positive response to the Turner/Frankenthaler exhibition.

        Rounding off on a different matter Robin’s ‘imagination drives technique’ is very pertinent and the up-coming exhibition of Matisse’s cut-outs will bear this out. Matisse was ‘driven’ to using scissors because he was bed-ridden, so it was both physical as well as imaginative frustration which led to this development. However, he certainly had imagination in spades a rare quality for sure…..

  7. Selby Whittingham said…

    Interesting discussion. Whether the juxtaposition of the two painters tells us anything I’m not sure. However I disagree with those who deny any connection between Turner and Abstract Expressionism, as I explained a year ago in The Quarterly Review online.

  8. Robin Greenwood said…

    James Hamilton, the curator of this exhibition (which I recommend, but for what will undoubtedly be unpopular reasons), recalls at the beginning of his catalogue essay the words of one 19thcentury critic William Carey, who castigated collectors for purchasing work with their ears rather than their eyes: i.e., they would buy what they heard was good, rather than trust to what their eyes told them. It’s a worthy old adage to recount, but is contradicted by Hamilton’s own lapses in providing meaningful insight and analysis of the paintings, instead doing the usual revelling in personality traits, career moves and superficial subject-matter.

    Unlike Emyr, I think the show is rather badly hung; but enough of that. I have often hankered after an exhibition that pits the best abstract painting against the best figurative painting, because I really think there is a lot to be gained for abstract artists from such a comparison. Many people disagree, and think it is not comparing like with like, and that abstract art should be judged upon its own terms. Even accepting that argument (which I don’t), I can only see that such a comparison helps greatly in defining what those terms might be. What are the “qualities” (as opposed to Patrick’s/Greenberg’s far too vague “quality”) or the “values” of abstract painting and what does it seek to achieve? I feel I know the answer to that less and less, and abstract work such as Frankenthaler’s, that has its genesis in the sixties, supplies little satisfaction, being far too simplistic and trite and lacking in content.

    This, of course, is not the comprehensive comparative show I one day hope for, or even a part of it, but it does have something to contribute to that debate, and far more than, for example, the hopelessly mismatched Poussin/Twombly show at Dulwich which I reviewed here in 2011. Frankenthaler is a better painter than Twombly (it would be hard not to be, though I’m mindful of some similarities between them too) and Turner is perhaps not as great a painter as Poussin, so the chasm of achievement is not so extreme. But there is a chasm, and in my opinion anyone not seeing that difference, anyone ignoring the complex magnificence of Turner’s “Thompson’s Aeolian Harp”, and its greatness in comparison to Frankenthaler’s best painting here (my choice would be “Lorelei” of 1956) is not being mindful of Mr. Carey’s maxim. It amazes me how anyone can return from this exhibition and hardly mention their experience of the Turner – some people will only have eyes for Frankenthaler, it seems. Thirty years ago, I would have been the same.

    But let’s compare like with like… fifteen months ago I reviewed “Gillian Ayres: Paintings from the Fifties” at the Jerwood, Hastings. Without question, those paintings and that exhibition were quite considerably better than this showing of Frankenthaler’s work. The Ayres’ works from 1959-60 that I focussed on had a far greater grasp of how to deliver a coherent abstract pictorial space, a far greater degree of relevant materiality and dextrous physical handling in the paint (Frankenthaler’s surfaces are so bland, close up, whether in oil or acrylic), generally a more inventive organisation of the whole picture than are available in Frankenthaler’s rather banal centralised compositions or too-graphic draftsmanship, and rather less of the cloying landscape allusions (despite interpretations by others). It is undoubtedly true that I have seen over the years a handful of Frankenthalers that I have thought were better than any of hers in this show – I can even now recall a big horizontal painting at Kasmin that impressed a lot in the seventies, and a couple more recently at Jacobson in 2010. But I have yet to see any work by her that gets close to the controlled physical power of Ayres’ “Muster” of 1960. I think in general that Frankenthaler’s tastefulness and graphic judgement are mistakenly seen as painterly “quality”; but if you can extricate your own taste from that way of thinking, which I believe is some kind of brainwashing of modernist vanity, you will begin to see paintings like “Sun Dial”, “Seascape with Dunes” and “Swan Lake 1” for what they are – eloquent but indulgent doodles on a large and perhaps rather arrogant scale. Frankenthaler would be far from alone in that camp. It’s not that she’s a terribly bad painter; she can be quite good, but “great” she is not.

    As I have said, the best Frankenthaler here I think is “Lorelei”, an early work full of variety, yet coherent in its planes and spaces – at least, it is when viewed from about 10 meters (or in reproduction, which flatters it and makes it pull together), because, like in all these paintings, the body of the paint has been absorbed into the canvas and removed of all physicality; this means that in the early works the colour is muted by the tone of oil-soaked canvas. Later she moves to acrylic, which has its own disappointments, and the problems of compositional frailty become exacerbated by some dreadfully slack allusions and insinuations of sublime landscape. Paintings all the way from “Lush Spring” 1975, through “Eastern Light” 1982, to “Overture” 1992 crave acknowledgement as masterful throwaways, where every annoying optically-relational tweak and dab of highlight strives to set off the supporting atmospherics. But really, that pink smattering at top-left of “Overture” is a poor, poor way to explore or exploit the relationship of all those greens with ochre and black. Frankenthaler in this painting is no colourist. The green here is a synecdoche for landscape, the space is impoverished and generalised, the whole effect is vague, and it is where Frankenthaler most exhibits failings similar to Twombly’s.

    Turner is not immune from the indulgence of tweaks and illuminating daubs on a floating sea of atmospherics either; but by such means he arrives at a figurative indeterminacy rather than an abstract ambiguity. Those are very different experiences, and are worlds apart in achievement. And that difference, which I suppose was thought of as the linking characteristic of these two artists, thus inadvertently exposes the exhibition as a rather raw deal for Frankenthaler. Her crude atmospherics are comparatively meaningless concoctions, compared to Turner’s pithy simplifications, and only demonstrate how much damned harder abstract painting must work in order to work. That difference needs more examination than there is room for in this already over-long comment, but I hope we can explore it further on abcrit, because it goes to the heart of abstract painting’s confusions with real and metaphorical space. Let it suffice to say here that any abstract painter now working who thinks they can still get away with these kinds of ambiguities is wasting their time.

    The greatest exposure of the chasm between these two artists, however, is maximised when Turner gets down to being as specific and cogent as he is in “Thompson’s Aeolian Harp”, which I think is just about the best Turner I have seen. It’s a fairly early work, still very much under the influence of Claude (and Poussin, perhaps via Richard Wilson; and surely influential on the developing work of Constable, who had by then not begun on his career of major landscape works), but it is also deeply and profoundly naturalistic in its rendering of the Thames from Richmond Hill, a view Turner knew well from first hand, and returned to a few times in different guises. The motif is rehearsed six years earlier in “The Festival of the Opening of the Vintage at Macon” of 1803, but in the 1809 painting the spaces are simultaneously complexified and clarified. The foreground clearing is completely realised to its edges (no vagueness here), with fabulously rendered trees of all kinds, worthy of Claude; and the leap away and down into the light-curve of the river is dazzlingly handled with the use of a retaining wall linking/separating/shaping the two very different spaces; then off and away into the distance, miles and miles, to the perfectly envisioned buildings in the distance, then away again, hills gently rising over hills; fabulous details of footpaths, strollers and sheep in the mid-distance. All sorts of realised three-dimensional spaces. All perfectly reconciled to two-dimensionality. Such are the demanding achievements of figurative painting; they are challenges not risen to here in the comparison with Frankenthaler.

    • Sam said…

      A couple of Qs:

      Do you think the opinion you have of Ayres would have been so positive had she been shown alongside Turner? From the Franenthaler’s I’ve seen (not been to this show yet) the distance you put between her and Ayres feels very much exaggerated.

      Do you think it is possible for abstract painting to render the detail you prize in Turner (more precisely the shifts from space to detail) without the complexities of glazing, preparatory studies, and the abbreviation figuration allows – in short the whole arsenal of technique the painters of the past had to call upon?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Yes, I think the Ayres at Hastings that we were talking about would have stood up better to a comparison with Turner, but bear in mind that I think those are the very best of Ayres, comprising only a handful of works, and would take their place amongst the best of abstract painting to date. I suspect these works in Margate are not the best of Frankenthaler, and my comparison was restricted to those two showings. Career-wise, it would be harder to call between them.

        I’ve never thought of myself as much of a fan of Turner in the past (and I still think he is not in the top rank with Constable), and I am very set against attributing to him a precedent for the ubiquitous ambiguities of abstraction, as Patrick and other seem to want to do. I think my point about the difference between figurative indeterminacy and abstract ambiguity is key, and very much relates to your question of “shifts from space to detail”, as you interestingly put it. This problem I see as not a case of lack of technique so much as of imagination, which would drive technique. It can only really be answered in painting, rather than hypothetically; whether different kinds of spaces (from deep to shallow?) can be accommodated, related, and made particular (which might be the same thing as “detailing”) in a singular abstract painting is an exciting area to be looking to. Since we can’t really do preparatory drawings and studied rehearsals in abstract art, the only way forward is to spend far more time working on individual paintings than previously considered sufficient: yes, at the expense of all that empty canvas, thin technique and limpid beauty, because the quickness and offhandedness of most sixties stuff is one of my major criticisms of the Frankenthaler ethos.

        Someone has rightly pointed out to me that not all great figurative painting employs these sweeping and deep vistas that I enthuse about, and so likewise abstract painting ought to be allowed to deal in all sorts of different spatial set-ups, both shallow and deep. But nevertheless it’s the specificness that is going to count most.

      • Sam said…

        Lots of interesting stuff here, but I have never really understood this type of idea, which is very common in abstract art (specifically in the type of abstract art I like the most): “Since we can’t really do preparatory drawings and studied rehearsals in abstract art”. It doesn’t seem to make sense to me other than as a residue of romantic / modernist idea of self-expression; or perhaps just a result of the de-skilling which accompanied modernism?

        These problems could be partly overcome through imagination or application, but perhaps not entirely so?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        If you tried it, you would understand. I don’t think it is to do with modernism or self-expression, only being abstract. All the preparation seems to have to go into the thing itself. What, after all, would you be drawing, before you start? Unstudied rehearsal by some kind of prior experience might be more of a possibility.

      • Sam said…

        I’m not denying that it feels real to you, but do I think it has quite a lot to do with modernism. It seems quite a close idea (albeit presented differently) to Rosenberg’s American Action Painters http://www.pooter.net/intermedia/readings/06.html

      • Sam said…

        “But my question to Sam remains on the table… what are you going to draw before you start an abstract painting or sculpture? Are you going to scribble an abstract doodle?

        I don’t think what I am saying in any way narrows down the number of approaches to abstract painting. I think the opposite. When you start a painting from nothing, it could go anywhere, and the discovery of form is a live adventure. All I am saying is, don’t pull up short of finding new form, carry on further than the norm in abstract painting.”

        This sounds even more like Rosenberg!

        I’m thinking of much sophisticated and specific things than doodles – which would really only be an extension of Rosenberg’s action painting. I do think that this idea of working it all out of the canvas is – almost by definition – a limited one, and one very much associated with a particular moment in modernist painting.

        This becomes especially obvious if you are going to extend the comparison to Turner, Constable, Poussin etc., who, it is worth remembering are, within your definition more abstract, and more adventurously spatial than most figurative painting. They had hosts of different ways of approaching pictures, of thinking through aspects of them in advance. Surely this type of planning was an essential prerequisite to the complexity and range you love in their work?

        And anyway, outside of exciting modernist rhetoric, no artist really starts from nothing – they develop certain approaches, vocabularies of structures, effects, motifs and they take cues from elsewhere, consciously or unconsciously. Perhaps a stress on improvisation keeps too many things unconscious, and so keeps them coming back…?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        I haven’t ever said Turner, Constable etc. are abstract, only that their paintings have often great qualities of “abstract-ness”, often more so than supposedly abstract art. But I think you are right in suggesting that all sorts of strategies might be usefully employed, not least to get you out of bad habits (e.g. facile improvisation). So we are close on that, but I just don’t see drawing as one of those strategies. Can you say what one would draw, or give an example of good abstract art springing from that way of working?

      • Sam said…

        I think I mean something closer to studies, or rehearsals than just drawing. I don’t see why a particular shape or relation could be experimented with, or the overall impression of structure noted in advance….

  9. Patrick Jones said…

    I feel it would be usefull to examine the spacial qualities of these two great artists.This seems to me what links them.Both wanted and fought for a wonderfully indeterminate quality ,in which everything could float.Frankenthaler remarked to me that ,like Rothko,she wanted to capture the deep space across the water from her home on Long Island Sound.When the big tugs,with red and green lights crossing,ploughed up and down past her window at dusk,any precise sense of space was impossible .Everything was shifting in and out and across,with the red dot next to the green,just like Corot.This is Paintings contribution to the structural spacial qualities alluded to on this site.It is completely and utterly different to Sculpture.

  10. Iain Robertson said…

    I enjoyed reading the essay, it looks like a fantastic show Frankenthaler has I feel been long overlooked and is well overdue a major outing, just from these instalation photographs you can see the influence she has had on so many British abstract painters.
    Interestingly Frankenthaler visited St Ives in the 60′s( a bit vague on the date apologies)I believe her signiture is in the visitors book of a guest house run by sculptor John Milne, she did want to make some work here in Porthmeor studios which sadly for whatever reason wasnt possible and I often wonder what she would have produced at this ‘Atlantic’ Studio which before the moderns was a hotbed of Marine painters. Julius Olsson et al
    Ironically it is the power of the sea that is preventing us jumping on a train to see the show. So looking forward to reading more.

  11. Catherine Cullis said…

    I enjoyed reading this excellent essay. I feel inspired to make a journey and visit the show, but failing that I hope to look at more of Frankenthaler’s work in the future.

  12. Julie Collins said…

    Thank you for a marvellous essay . A thought provoking and inspiring read. A long overdue exhibition for Frankenthaler.

  13. Patrick Jones said…

    I also made the trip from Devon to see this show which I consider to be of the highest order.To me its as tho Pollock had lived and been productive for another 20 yrs ,this is how he would have painted.This is the apogee of Greenbergs crie-de couer that only quality matters.That there is unevenness in the Frankenthalers is part of their strength.She was not afraid of taste,but embraced it ,not afraid of sheer beauty to her lasting credit.The room of acrylic pictures from the 80s is a knock-out.Take the hi=speed service from St Pancras and in an hour you will have an experience of Painting to be remembered.

  14. Julie Caves said…

    Thank you for this essay, I enjoyed it.

    I saw the exhibition on Sunday. It was great to see the size of Frankenthaler’s work. Her paintings really did justice to the space. I was disappointed by some of the Turner paintings that they chose for this pairing. I think his looser, airier, more abstract work would have been really nice to see in relationship to Frankenthaler’s.

  15. Robin Greenwood said…

    A very good essay indeed, and I look forward to seeing the show in order to contribute to the discourse you have so intelligently begun.