No Rules

Helen Frankenthaler Woodcuts

July 1–September 24, 2017

No Rules

Helen Frankenthaler

Cedar Hill

Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928–2011), Cedar Hill, 1983. Ten color woodcut, 20 1/4 x 24 3/4 in. © 2017 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Crown Point Press. Oakland, CA

Manton Research Center

In 1994, when being interviewed by printer/publisher Ken Tyler, Helen Frankenthaler stated, “There are no rules, that is one thing I say about every medium, every picture . . .  that is how art is born, that is how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules, that is what invention is about.”
No Rules explores Helen Frankenthaler’s inventive and groundbreaking approach to the woodcut. The artist began creating woodcuts after experimenting with lithography, etching, and screen printing. She produced her first woodcuts, East and Beyond (1973) and her ethereal Savage Breeze (1974), by carving pieces of wood with a jigsaw, inking each block of wood separately and arranging the pieces of wood to print them on paper. In Essence Mulberry (1977) and Cameo (1980), she invented a new technique termed “guzzying,” working the wood’s surface to achieve specific results when printed. Throughout her career, the artist worked with a variety of print publishers to push the medium in new directions. In 1983 she traveled to Japan and worked in traditional methods of color woodblock printing with an expert carver and printers to produce Cedar Hill (1983), resulting in an entirely different, layered approach to color.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Frankenthaler continued to experiment with enthusiasm and daring. For Freefall and Radius (both 1992–93), the artist worked with dyed paper pulp to create the maquettes for the final woodcuts. In Tales of Genji (1998) and Madame Butterfly (2000), she worked with a dazzling array of blocks and papers, collaborating with an expert Japanese carver, printers, and paper-makers to create serial images acknowledged to be landmarks in the evolution of the medium. Her final three woodcuts, Snow Pines (2004), Japanese Maple (2005), and Weeping Crabapple (2009), pay homage to three different types of trees in strikingly divergent ways.
No Rules is made possible by the generous contribution of Denise Littlefield Sobel and the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts. Major support is provided by Dena and Felda Hardymon, with additional support from Richard and Carol Seltzer.

During the 1979–80 academic year, Abstract Expressionist painter Helen Frankenthaler was part of the Williams College Artist-in-Residence Program. At the end of this period, the Clark presented and toured a comprehensive exhibition of her prints, curated by Thomas Krens, then director of the Artist-in-Residence Program and incoming director of the Williams College Museum of Art. The Clark renews its association with the artist this summer with two exhibitions exploring her paintings and prints. As in Nature focuses on the complex meanings behind the color in Frankenthaler’s paintings, while No Rules features Frankenthaler’s rich woodcuts, executed over four decades of her career.