Helen Frankenthaler, an artist who helped develop a style of painting known as Color Field, has died at the age of 83. Though she was one of the most famous female artists of her generation, she said she never thought of herself as a "lady painter."
According to the Times, Frankenthaler died in Connecticut after a long illness. Beginning in the fifties, she had developed a technique of pouring paint directly on canvas to create washes of color that evoked landscapes. Her work was divisive for critics — some praised its "freedom, spontaneity, openness," while others called it "boardroom" art or "too beautiful." To this last charge, she responded,
I think people are very threatened by the word beauty today. In some circles the word implies shmaltzy and passé. But the darkest Rembrandts and Goyas, the most somber music of Beethoven, the most tragic poems by Eliot are all full of light and beauty. Great, moving art that speaks the truth is beautiful art.
Frankenthaler was difficult to interview — People magazine's Susan Reed spoke of a "mad, Monty Python-esque satire of an interview" in which the two passed back and forth a sheet of prepared questions like a script. She wouldn't talk about her personal life, including her marriage to fellow artist Robert Motherwell. She did say, in an interview for a 1972 book, "For me, being a ‘lady painter' was never an issue. I don't resent being a female painter. I don't exploit it. I paint." You can see some of the results — an influential life's work — in the video above.