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No Rules: Helen Frankenthaler Woodcuts

“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.” Helen Frankenthaler

No Rules explores Helen Frankenthaler’s inventive and groundbreaking approach to the woodcut. The artist began creating woodcuts after her previous experimentations with lithography, etching, and screen printing. Throughout her career, Frankenthaler collaborated with a variety of print publishers to push the medium in new directions. In 1983, she traveled to Japan and worked with the expert woodcarver Reizo Monjyu and the printer Tadashi Toda. These efforts resulted in an entirely new, layered approach to color, which differed from traditional forms of woodcut in which images are pulled from a single carved block or from several different color blocks.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Frankenthaler continued to experiment in woodcuts like Freefall (1993), working with dyed paper pulp printed with color blocks to create layers of color. For Tales of Genji (1998) and Madame Butterfly (2000), she combined a dazzling array of blocks and papers, collaborating again with an expert Japanese carver, printers, and papermakers to produce a series of prints that are landmarks in the evolution of the woodcut medium. Never confining herself to tradition, nor to “rules,” Frankenthaler expanded the formal possibilities of the woodcut and remains one of the medium’s greatest innovators.

No Rules is made possible by the generous contribution of Denise Littlefield Sobel. Major support is provided by Dena and Felda Hardymon, with additional support from Richard and Carol Seltzer. The Clark is grateful to the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation and the Williams College Museum of Art for their generous loans.


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