The artist’s signature abstraction was something she executed through the process of diluting paint with turpentine, allowing it to fully soak into the fibers of a raw canvas. The thinned-paint would thus fuse with its material support, drawing focus to the canvas as an integral part of the art itself. Debuted in 1952 with Frankenthaler’s masterpiece, Mountains and Sea, the technique represents a departure from the materiality of paint pivotal to the prevailing artists of the time – notably Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Richard Pousette-Dart.
Unlike the more violent or distorted abstractions employed by her male counterparts, Frankenthaler’s approach was delicate, ethereal and obscured the line between paint and subject. The effect she was able to achieve was rich yet luminous color and forms that play with the consciousness of space. The singularity of this gesture was felt by many and therefore constitutes a milestone in art history, as reflected by a generation of artists she influenced, beginning with Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis and Jules Olitski.
With poetic blues and intermittent dabs of soft colors, Haze evokes the stillness of a boat surrounded by fog at dawn or the lulling view of a rainy day contemplated from a misty window. Nonetheless, the weight of Frankenthaler’s craft stems from the tendency to conjure and deny such images simultaneously. As quoted by Alison Rowley in Helen Frankenthaler: Painting History, Writing Painting (p. 46), the artist states: “my feeling [is] that a successful abstract painting plays with space on all different levels, different speeds, with different perspectives, and at the same time remains flat... For me the most beautiful pictures of any age have this ambiguity.” It is the feeling that the work is somehow purposefully incomplete, or holding something back in quasi-existential fashion that enthralls the viewer to continue searching for meaning among the shapes.
Made a year before Frankenthaler’s historic solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and just five years before her Museum of Modern Art retrospective, Haze is made at the culmination of her artistic career and stands as a prime example of her groundbreaking explorations.
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