Yale Bulletin and Calendar

May 10, 2002Volume 30, Number 29Two-Week Issue

"Tales of Gengi I," a 1998 print by Helen Frankenthaler, is part of six-piece series created by the artist. In this and other later works by Frankenthaler, the grain of the wood is a prominent part of the creation.

Exhibit features noted American artist's woodcuts

The first exhibition to focus solely on the woodcuts of the American artist Helen Frankenthaler will be on view at the Yale University Art Gallery May 14-Sept. 8.

"Frankenthaler: The Woodcuts" includes over 20 woodcuts, and a number of states and proofs, as well as the original woodblocks for two of the images. The show was organized by the Naples Museum of Art in Naples, Florida; Judith Goldman is guest curator for the exhibition and author of the accompanying catalogue of the same title, published by George Braziller, Inc. Suzanne Boorsch, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs at the Yale Art Gallery, who worked closely for several years with Frankenthaler on the catalogue raisonné of the artist's prints, is in charge of the exhibition's showing at Yale.

Frankenthaler made her first woodcut in 1973. This was 12 years after she had made her first print, a lithograph, and 21 years after she created the painting "Mountains and Sea," in which she stained the canvas rather than painting it -- a breakthrough technique that proved to be influential. Similarly, Frankenthaler's work in the oldest method of printmaking has been credited with launching a resurged interest in woodcuts in the last quarter of the 20th century.

"East and Beyond," Frankenthaler's earliest woodcut, was made at Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE). Through trial and error, the artist developed a process in which she used a jigsaw to create fluid shapes of different colors that fit together like pieces of a puzzle. This was followed by "Savage Breeze" in 1974 and "Essence Mulberry" in 1977. The latter, perhaps her best-known woodcut, took its inspiration from the deep red color of the juice of ripe mulberries from trees at Tyler Graphics, in Bedford Village, New York, where Frankenthaler was then working.

In 1983, Frankenthaler spent several weeks in Japan working with master carver Reizo Monjyu and printer Tadashi Toda in the ancient tradition of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. From this collaboration came "Cedar Hill," published by Crown Point Press, Oakland, California. After a hiatus, she created "The Clearing and Grove" prints in association with Garner Tullis in New York. The actual blocks for "Grove" will be part of the Yale exhibition, as will those for the early woodcut "Savage Breeze."

Less than a decade later, Frankenthaler again experimented with the technical possibilities of woodcut by using dyed paper pulp as the substance of two works, "Freefall" and "Radius," published by Tyler Graphics Ltd. in 1992-1993. Both are printed on sheets of handmade paper that was dyed or stained with color before being printed with woodblocks. One wall of the exhibition gallery will be entirely given to the display of "Freefall" -- which is five-feet wide and six-feet high -- side by side with the full-size model of the work that Frankenthaler created from paper pulp. This model, or maquette, is on loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

In recent years, Frankenthaler continued to expand the limits of printmaking and woodcuts with the creation of the six-piece "Tales of Genji" and the triptych "Madame Butterfly." In both of these works, the grain of the wood is a prominent part of the final product, notes Boorsch.

The Yale showing of "Frankenthaler: The Woodcuts" is supported by the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund.

Several related events will be held in conjunction with the show in June. Details about those programs will appear in future issues of the Yale Bulletin & Calendar.


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