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In the Galleries

This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 10, 1999. All rights reserved.

All these words are irrelevant until you see the pictures,"

says Helen Frankenthaler.

The pictures to which she refers are those of "The Darker Palette,"

a show comprising 11 paintings that can be seen at the Art Museum,

Princeton University, through February 28.

Far from "irrelevant," the words (mostly her own) obviously

interested the hundreds of Frankenthaler enthusiasts who crowded Princeton’s

big McCosh 50 lecture hall last Wednesday afternoon, February 3. There

they heard the artist’s "top of the head" notes about her

current show, and viewed slides of each work, accompanied by conversation

between Frankenthaler and curator Karen Wilkin, and between Frankenthaler

and audience members.

Born in 1928, Frankenthaler is encapsulated in one reference as "an

important figure in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to

Color Field painting." The works in "The Darker Palette"

range in creation age from "Viewpoint" of 1974 to "Other

Side of the Moon," a 1995 work on hand-made paper.

Vignette: The petite artist, in oversized eye glasses, dressed in

various brown tones that started with her hair and patterned shawl,

and included pants and heels. Her voice was low toned and to the point,

the antithesis of fluttery.

Asked how many pictures she works on at once, Frankenthaler replies:

"The habits I had 40 years ago are not to be envied."

Fact: She painted in oils until the 1960s, when she switched to acrylics,

which "have more endurance and eliminate the aura around the oil."

She used to work on the floor and, when a picture was dry, she’d put

it up, then possibly return it to the floor. In rare instances, she

might rotate the image, top to bottom. She might look at a picture

and say, this just doesn’t work yet (as a poet might consider a line

of poetry).

"It isn’t as clear as working toward `a goal,’" she says.

"It’s much more looking at what you’re doing and feeling, `that’s

it. I’m going to leave it alone’ — if you’re lucky enough to know

when to leave it alone."

Question: Since she’s known as a colorist, why "the darker palette"?

Answer: She might have made darker pictures for any of these reasons:

mood; availability of paints in her studio; the need to switch gears

for a change; conscious experimentation; museum experiences that suggested

ideas for pictures.

"Modern artists are more concerned with paint than with subject

matter," she says. However, she admits to "a sneaky use of

landscape in my work. Landscape does play a part, even though you

may not see it."

Frankenthaler’s black is never "black." It’s a mix of many

colors, and "not what one spoons out of a jar marked `black.’"

Says curator Karen Wilken: "The switch between darker colors and

signature paintings has been going on from the beginning."

The refrain: "See the pictures."

— Pat Summers

Helen Frankenthaler: The Darker Palette, Art Museum,

Princeton University , 609-258-3788. To February 28. Free.

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