In 1994, when being interviewed by printer/publisher Ken Tyler, Helen Frankenthaler stated, “There are no rules, that is one thing I say about every medium, every picture . . . that is how art is born, that is how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules, that is what invention is about.”
No Rules explores Helen Frankenthaler’s inventive and groundbreaking approach to the woodcut. The artist began creating woodcuts after experimenting with lithography, etching, and screen printing. She produced her first woodcuts, East and Beyond (1973) and her ethereal Savage Breeze (1974), by carving pieces of wood with a jigsaw, inking each block of wood separately and arranging the pieces of wood to print them on paper. Throughout her career, the artist worked with a variety of print publishers to push the medium in new directions. In 1983 she traveled to Japan and worked in traditional methods of color woodblock printing with an expert carver and printers to produce Cedar Hill (1983), resulting in an entirely different, layered approach to color.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.
Whether or not you go, Frankenthaler: The Woodcuts is the first publication devoted to Frankenthaler's woodcuts: a body of work that represents a singular achievement by an American printer. The book features all twenty-four editions of the woodcuts Frankenthaler has made to date. No artist working today has achieved such painterly results with woodcut, the oldest printmaking medium. And yet her woodcuts are never empty translations of painting into print. They are, above all, woodcuts, which acknowledge and utilize the properties of the medium to great effect.
In Frankenthaler's prints, the wood's grain carries color, and the paper's surface holds it. Beginning with the delicate East and Beyond (1973), her first woodcut, and concluding with the triptych Aadame Butterfly (2000), the evolution of Frankenthaler's woodcuts is traced. Also reproduced are paintings on wood for Madame Butterfly and the Tales of Genji series (1998), inspired by Murasaki Shikibu's classic narrative work and the Japanese Ukiyo-e tradition. The working and trial proofs that precede the final editions and the monotype and unique works that follow them are reproduced as well. The book also includes photographs of woodblocks and progressive proofs that allow the reader to see the technical aspects of printmaking.