The daughter of a New York State Supreme Court Judge, Helen Frankenthaler grew up in New York City. During high school she studied with the Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo, who taught her to value craftsmanship and materials. In 1946, Frankenthaler entered Bennington College, where she was encouraged to analyze space and composition by studying the works of Cézanne and the cubists. After finishing college, Frankenthaler briefly studied art history at Columbia University, but left to devote herself to painting full-time.
In 1950 Frankenthaler became friends with the critic Clement Greenberg and met such influential artists as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Motherwell, to whom she was married for a time. An exhibition of Pollock's works in 1951 inspired her to explore the radical possibilities of placing canvas on the floor and painting an image from all sides. At this time, a number of artists, including Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, and Pollock, were working on paintings that juxtaposed areas of flat, stained color and layers of built-up paint. Frankenthaler extrapolated from their work the procedure of making pictures entirely through the "staining" of thinned paint into raw, unprimed canvas. Through this method she created fields of transparent color that seem to float in space, with the weave of the canvas establishing the flatness of the image. By the early 1950s her "poured paintings" began to receive critical acclaim.
Frankenthaler's arrangement of colors and shapes often evoke the natural environment, and she frequently refers to her works as landscapes. In each work of art, she creates a unique visual space, atmosphere, and mood.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art.]