Late Works 1990-2003
Palm Springs Art Museum
October 14, 2021 – February 27, 2022
Upon stepping into the exhibit, one is immediately greeted by deep worlds of reds, umbers and blues, with vast bodies of work (some measuring up to 9’ across) that beckon demand introspection. Although initially calming, further reflection unleashes a series of nuanced emotions expressed through various notes of bold colors and brushstrokes.
One of Frankenthaler’s largest paintings, Borrowed Dream, expresses this opaque friction through a mostly rich mahogany canvas that is contrasted by a bright window of indigo and sparkly bursts of yellow. The eye is drawn to and wants to stay floating in that sea of tranquil blue, as if a reprieve from the dense, surrounding chaos of the outer world, signified through rough and bumpy textures.
While considered an abstract painter whose works are heavily rooted in feeling, Frankenthaler has been known to occasionally reference tangible realms, and many of the pieces in this collection offer faint impressions of landscapes and figuration. Solar Imp (acrylic on paper) shows a more playful outcome of her process, with gestural marks that do indeed resemble a kind of imp surrounded by fiery yellows and oranges.
Frankenthaler’s original soak-stain technique is especially apparent in Stella Polaris, another of her larger acrylic canvas paintings, wherein thin washes of blue are disturbed by expressive, impasto strokes. This piece evokes the feeling of being lost in an astral blizzard, with plumes of frosty nebula and cryptic red-hot spheres fluorish.
Spellbound, acrylic on paper, induces a smooth, nocturnal-esque landscape brought to life by soft, moonlike hues. With traces of movement propelled by a lunar presence in the bottom right-hand corner, a spell is seemingly cast over the entire ghostly terrain.
Other works demonstrate how less is often more, and through her sensitive rendering, Frankenthaler executes this masterfully. Lighthouse Series 1, a smaller acrylic on paper, appears at first glance as an uneventful scene of faded, lackluster purple, but upon closer inspection, the scene blossoms into a lush, moody seascape spawned by a subtle dark spot which, perhaps, marks where sea and sky meet. Through its misty layers, the distant sounds of a lighthouse foghorn can almost be imagined.
The exhibit also includes display cases that feature original drafts of a lecture script, Thoughts on painting. The speech reiterates Frankenthaler’s personal process of intuiting, reworking, and embellishing – declaring a piece finished only once it feels just right. Happily, there are plenty of benches, meaning guests may take their time and meditate over what Frankenthaler’s intimate dance with color might personally summon within them.
Cover image: Spellbound; images courtesy of the author.