Artwork Detail

Variation II on Mauve Corner
1969
American, 1928–2011
Lithograph
20 1/4 x 25 1/4 "
University purchase, 1969
WU 4434
Helen Frankenthaler is best known for her luminous, large-scale “soak-stain” paintings composed of turpentine-thinned paint on unprimed canvas. She is recognized as a catalytic figure in the emergence of color field abstraction—also known as “post-painterly abstraction” (a term coined by the art critic Clement Greenberg)—which is characterized by a subtle application of lucid color in large “fields” and a resolute fusion of image and ground. In 1961 Frankenthaler began to explore printmaking at the prompting of Tatyana Grosman, founder of the experimental workshop Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) in West Islip, Long Island. She was initially reluctant to practice in that medium, as the collaborative, predetermined nature of the process appeared contradictory to her free, instinctive encounter with painting. In lithography, however, she found the application of tusche (a greasy substance that attracts ink) to the stone surface offered a similar method of handling as paint on canvas. The absorption of ink into paper further matched her integration of paint and canvas. "Variation II on Mauve Corner" and the vertically oriented "Variation I on Mauve Corner," both produced in 1969, exemplify her printing practice. "Variation II on Mauve Corner" resonates with Frankenthaler’s paintings of the late 1960s in its field of suspended, layered color and compositional play on the idea of boundaries and space. It also reflects Frankenthaler’s focus on translucency in ink—beneath the titular mauve is a layer of brown that subtly materializes, giving dimension to the color-shape. The central mauve form is self-contained by its irregular yet restrained contour. Green and orange fingermarks balance the heavy form above and serve as an index of the artist’s presence. The title’s referent of “corner” urges one to evaluate the four corners left void by the fabricated black outline. Acting as both a frame and a compositional element, this black line reinforces Frankenthaler’s play with restrictive boundaries and her larger challenge to artistic conventions. [Permanent collection text, 2018]