1990s: Freefall, Radius, Tales of Genji

Helen Frankenthaler
American, 1928–2011
Twelve-color woodcut from twenty-one woodblocks on hand-dyed paper
Helen Frankenthaler Foundation
© 2017 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Tyler Graphics Ltd., Mount Kisco, New York

The 1990s were the most prolific period of woodcut production for Frankenthaler, with twelve works produced in the decade. To understand her woodcuts from this timespan, one must return to the 1980s and her experiences in San Francisco and Japan. While no documentation exists regarding her exposure to source material, Tales of Genji emerges from a distinctly Japanese cultural touchpoint likely shaped by the artist’s time in Japan in the previous decade. Like Cedar Hill, all of the prints in the Tales of Genji (1998) series were made collaboratively with the Japanese block-carver and printer Yasuyuki Shibata and the publisher Kenneth Tyler.
Other 1990s woodcuts in the exhibition have more readily identifiable sources. In August of 1982, Frankenthaler worked on printmaking forms other than woodcuts with Garner Tullis at the Institute of Experimental Printmaking. Tullis was interested in using paper as more than a surface on which ink could rest, helping other artists make works that were closer to paper sculptures than conventional prints. He shared this passion with Frankenthaler, who came to develop her own interest in the way paper could be changed by the printing process. But while she had been exposed to Kenneth Tyler’s work with molded paper, the use of paper was of little interest to her in the 1980s. A combination of factors brought manipulated paper into her practice, including Tyler’s encouragement to work with paper pulp and the expertise of paper maker Tom Strianese, which resulted in another collaboration with the artist. Freefall (1993) and Radius (1993) were both made using dyed paper pulp.