The Abstract Expressionist Art of Helen Frankenthaler

This month, I’m excited to explore the artwork of Helen Frankenthaler who has a long-standing reputation as one of the great American artists of the twentieth century. She was highly respected among the second generation of postwar American abstract painters. Although she was inspired by Pollock, she loved to experiment and pioneered her own style. Her collection of work has immensely impacted contemporary art and continues to do so.

About the Artist

Helen Frankenthaler career spans over six decades from 1928-2011. In addition to producing unique paintings on canvas and paper, she worked in a wide range of media. This included ceramics, sculpture, tapestry, and especially printmaking. Many give her credit for playing a pivotal role in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Color Field painting. Artist, Morris Louis, famously said of her work that it was “the bridge between Pollock and what is possible.”

Frankenthaler’s Art


"Beach" by  Helen Frankenthaler.

This art piece launched Frankenthaler’s professional exhibition career. Artist Adolph Gottlieb selected it for an exhibition called “Fifteen Unknowns: Selected by Artists of the Kootz Gallery.” This square piece was created with oil, sand, plaster of Paris, and coffee grounds. The neutral color palette makes the piece feel understated while the texture adds complexity and interest.

Mountains and Sea

An abstract painting by  Helen Frankenthaler.

Helen Frankenthaler used her trip to Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia as inspiration for this piece. She uses the colors of the mountain, sea, and shoreline to evoke a landscape. Referencing figuration and landscape in unique ways is a theme in her artwork.

This piece also showcases her signature technique called “soak-staining”. It’s a process that involves pouring diluted pigments onto an unprimed canvas as it lays flat on the ground. This technique created fields of floating, translucent color.

Abstract Landscape

 Helen Frankenthaler's "Abstract Landscape." A colorful piece of art.

I love how bright and cheerful this art piece is. The dark green shapes are reminiscent of palm trees making the piece seem to reflect a tropical landscape. Perhaps the bright red, oranges, and yellows represent the sunshine while the light blue represents the ocean.

The Jugglers

 Helen Frankenthaler's piece, "The Jugglers" from 1951.

This is another bright and colorful piece of hers that I adore. I love how eye-catching it is and how the black and cream break up the color. It makes a great conversation piece.


A light pink abstract work of art.

This piece created in 1995 is more minimalistic compared to her earlier pieces. I appreciate the femininity of this piece displayed by the light pink background and image that reminds me of a rose. The blue edges give the artwork a nice contrast.

Cloud Burst

A moody abstract painting by Helen Frankenthaler.

Frankenthaler created this stunning art piece in 2002. It’s simple yet captivating. I love how the colors seamlessly merge together while the dark color on the top right corner adds drama to the piece.

Frankenthaler’s Woodcuts

 Helen Frankenthaler working on woodcuts.

In addition to being known for expanding the possibilities of abstract art, Frankenthaler was also renowned for her woodcuts. The composition of her woodcuts was influenced by contemporary Japanese woodcuts. Her woodcut technique was made possible through her collaborations with print workshops.

Madame Butterfly

An abstract woodcut by Helen Frankenthaler.

This woodcut was one of her most monumental pieces. It was constructed from 42 woodblocks using four different types of wood, and printed with 102 colors. Although it is not made using the soak-stain technique she is known for, the thin fluid colors make it appear that way.

This is just a sample size of all the impressive artwork Helen Frankenthaler created in her substantial art career. I hope you enjoyed exploring her pieces with me. I always find it fascinating to see the evolution of an artist’s style. Want to discover more talented artists? Check out the captivating art of Nicolas Party or Maya Hayuk’s colorful street art.