A SPECTACULAR TRIPTYCH
BY HELEN FRANKENTHALER
·the artist is
able through her
nonobjective vocabulary to produce an image
that evokes not only a
of femininity (in terms of grace and delicacy),
but also an Asian or
style (in terms of its airy atmosphere,
transparency, and all
(born 1928) is a world-renowned abstract artist whose work heralded in
painting's next significant phase after abstract expressionism in the
Rather than apply paint in a thick, gestural manner, Frankenthaler
to stain her canvases with broad expanses of veil-like color that give
her finished works a transcendent, mystical glow. Her work is
about a distinct figure-ground relationship; instead, the expanses of
immerse the viewer in a space where each passage is of equal weight in
a shimmering, decentered field. Frankenthaler's early efforts
eventually inspire more austere approaches in the 1960's and 1970's,
painters would suppress painterly gesture even further to focus solely
on color relationships.
Butterfly, a woodcut triptych printed in 2000, is a large work (41
3/4 x 79 1/2 inches) of remarkable complexity. The triptych
is Frankenthaler's last print in collaboration with master printer
Tyler, founder of the famed Tyler Graphics studio. Under his
technical supervision, the artist and the Tyler technicians employed
Japanese ukiyo-e carving and registering techniques to print 102 colors
on elegant sheets of handmade paper made exclusively for this
The resulting work reminds one of Japanese prints, where the fluid
belie the physical force required to carve a woodblock's surface.
Frankenthaler's abstract shapes of misty color fade from one to the
in a manner that reminds one of watercolor effects.
Butterfly works with the image in a poetic way. The opera Madame
Butterfly is primarily about the experiences of a Japanese woman;
artist is able through her nonobjective vocabulary to produce an image
that evokes not only a sense of femininity (in terms of grace and
but also an Asian or oriental style (in terms of its airy atmosphere,
and all over composition). The work also relates metaphorically
opera in general. That is, the techniques used in both the
and opera singing are sophisticated and difficult to master, yet both
sound of the singing and the appearance of the print strike a listener
or viewer as simply and effortlessly beautiful.
the centralized white shape, with its wing-like spread and rounded
does in fact look rather like a butterfly. The shape is certainly
not literal or illustrative; a direct representation would be
and would spoil the mystery. Rather, the various forms in the
float on gossamer wings like the essence of the insect, amid soft,
tones and a variety of natural textures.
Butterfly is impressive in its visual and conceptual depth.
woodcut, a recent acquisition of Valparaiso University's Brauer Museum
of Art, is a spectacular example and summary of the artist's pictorial
concerns over the last half century. Its addition to the Brauer
of Art's permanent collection is an event truly worthy of celebration.
© by Gregg Hertzlieb