Friday, September 6, 2019

Color Field Painting Lesson

Happiness happens when, during a monthly Skype with your sister, who is an Art History professor, you tell her that you "taught Helen Frankenthaler last week" and she says, "I did too!"  Frankenthaler was a second generation color field painter and abstract expressionist, who exhibited her art for the six decades before her death in 2011. She was inspired by Jackson Pollock's drip paintings in that she moved her canvases to the floor, but rather than dribble and throw paint from a brush, she poured diluted paint onto linen canvases, creating a stain soak technique.  She would manipulate the puddles of paint by lifting the corners of the canvas, or pushing it gently with sponges and squeegees attached to long sticks.  I think I remember hearing that Robert Motherwell (who was her husband for thirteen years) also created mop-like brushes for his large paintings. Morris Lewis followed Frankenthaler's lead in creating images from overlapping areas of soaked color.

My students took this inspiration and ran with it to make their own, large and small color field paintings.  We used watercolor rather than thinned oil or acrylic, but there's still a similarity in terms of aesthetics and a new appreciation for color just for the sake of color.

For a fascinating look at the science behind color, take a listen at one of the most popular Radio Lab episodes ever:

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