Helen Frankenthaler’s work opens my eyes to the power of abstract expressionism like none other. I respect Pollock and have a bit of a brain crush on Franz Kline, but with Frankenthaler’s work, I simply cannot look away.
This painting, Mountains and Sea (1952), brought her career to the fore. It showcases the groundbreaking method of “soak staining," which involves mixing oil paints with turpentine or kerosene so that the pigments take on the consistency of watercolor but soak into the canvas—effectively fusing materiality and meaning.
The work is simultaneously about its own physicality—how the paint penetrates deeply into the canvas, leaving a haloed wash of color on the surface—as well as how abstract forms, so painstakingly created, take on the look of organic, natural bodies. It overloads the senses (remember that this is a huge canvas, something like 7 by 10 feet) and engulfs the viewer just as surely as if you were really on the peak of a mountaintop or walking along the shore of the sea.