How Helen Frankenthaler Pioneered a New Form of Abstract Expressionism

By contrast, in her LIFE shoot, Frankenthaler sits calmly but assuredly with her legs politely folded under her in a button-up shirt, tied into a knot over a shin-length skirt. She is perched on one of her paintings, laid horizontally on the floor. Where Pollock is positioned to dominate his single, hung painting, Frankenthaler is surrounded in every direction by more of her paintings, engulfed by soft swaths of paint.

Given the social climate of the 1950s, the differences between the images of Frankenthaler and those of Pollock couldn’t read as more starkly gendered. And although those differences may be instructive to us now, Frankenthaler was notoriously frosty about bringing gender into the artistic equation. Asked about it in a 1989 interview for the New York Times, she lamented: “There are three subjects I don’t like discussing: my former marriage, women artists, and what I think of my contemporaries.”

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