Category Archives: women in art wednesdays


3. helen frankenthaler 1957 images 17. helen frankenthaler

“The only rule is that there are no rules. Anything is possible…It’s all about risks, deliberate risks.”

This is how Helen Frankenthaler refers to the art she practiced for over 60 years, making history before she was 30 years old. This is my sixth installment of my Weekly Women in Art series.

How did she make history so young? By taking the technique accredited to Jackson Pollock  of pouring paint directly onto the canvas,  she adapted it to her own needs. Pollack used enamel paint that sat on top of the canvas. Frankenthaler used oil that was thinned with turpentine which soaked into the canvas, seemingly staining the canvas.

“It was all there. I wanted to live in this land. I had to live there, and master the language.”

That is what she said after seeing the Pollock show at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1950 or 1951.


Mountains and Sea


She painted this before her 24th birthday. Measuring 9 feet wide by 7 feet high Mountains and Sea directly affected both Kenneth Nolan and Morris Louis. Louis later said it was a

“Bridge betwen Pollack and what was possible.”

Helen was grew up on the New York’s Upper East Side. Her father was a New York State Supreme Judge, her mother a German emigre’.  It is safe to say she had a privileged background!

After graduating from Bennington College, she inherited money from her father (who had died in 1940) and was able to get a New York apartment AND have a separate studio! And, she began painting full-time.

When she organized an exhibition in 1950 at Bennington College she met Clement Greenberg, considered one of the foremost art critics of the day, and began a five year relationship with him. Through him she met Pollock, David Smith, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Franz Kline, Lee Krasner and other members of the New York artworld at the time.

When she separated from Greenberg, she met Robert Motherwell and married him in 1958. He  was also from a well-to-do family, and they were suddenly the “golden couple” of the artworld. They spent months honeymooning in Spain and France.

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When they returned, they left the downtown art scene and moved uptown and began entertaining. British sculptor Anthony Caro recalled a dinner party on his first trip to New York which was attended by over 100 people. He sat between David Smith and Hedy Lamarr.

Helen loved entertaining, and she loved to dance. She attended a function at the White House in 1985 honoring the Prince and Princess of Wales. After dancing with a partner that twirled her around, she said:

“I’ve waited a lifetime for a dance like this. He was Great!!!”

When she returned to New York, she showed her assistant his card – “John Travolta”.

The awards she received are numerous. among them:

  • First Prize for Painting, Premiere Biennale de Paris, 1959
  • National Medal of Arts 2001
  • served on the National Council for the Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts
  • New York City Mayor’s Award of Honor for Arts and Culture 1986
  • Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement, College Art Association 1994

Honorary degrees received include:

  • Smith College 1973
  • Radcliffe College 1978
  • Amherst College 1979
  • New York Univerisity 1979
  • Harvard University 1980
  • Philadelphia College of Art 1980
  • Yale University 1981
  • Brandeis University 1982

Her exhibitions are just as impressive

  • two New York retrospectives before the end of the 1960s, at the Jewish Museum and at the Whitney Museum
  • Guggenheim Museum 1985 – works on paper retrospective
  • Museum of Modern Art, 1989

“Being the person I was and am, exposed to the things I have been exposed to, I could only make my painting with the methods – and with the wrist i have.”

“I have always been concerned with painting that simultaneously insists on a flat surface and then denies it.”

“My pictures are full of climates, abstract climates. They’re not nature per se, but a feeling.”

“Art has a will of its own. It has nothing to do with the taste of the moment or what’s expected of you. That’s a formula for dead art, or fashionable art.”

“There are three subjects I don’t like discussing. My former marriage, women artists, and what I think of my contemporaries.”

Helen Frankenthaler – December 12, 1928 – December 27, 2011


Adirondacks 1992


Painted on 21st Street 1951



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Tracey Emin is never boring,  considered shocking by some, This is the fifth installment in the Women in Art Wednesday series.


she’s smiling, not the usual sneer

Born in 1963, she was part of the hip group called  YBA’s (Young British Artists).

She studied fashion at what is now called the University for the Creative Arts. Later shemoved to London and received an MA in painting from the Royal College of Art. Working in  shop with artist Sarah Lucas, she made extra money writing letters asking for $20 pounds to invest in her life as an artist (don’t you love that?).

 In November 1993 she had her first solo show at the White Cube Gallery in London – calling it My Major Restrospective.

“I thought it would be my one and only exhibition, so I decided to call it My Major Retrospective.”

The show consisted of personal photographs and photos of early paintings she had destroyed, as well as other personal momentos. (including a pack of cigarettes a favorite uncle was holding when he was decapitated in a car wreck – lovely huh?).

In 1997, her work Everyone I Have Ever Slept With created quite a sensation consisting of  a tent with 102 names appliqued on the inside (this was destroyed in the famous Momart fire).  Of course, the public thought it was 102 people she’d had sex with, but it was more inclusive than that.

“Some I’d had a shag with in bed or against a wall some I had just slept with, like my grandma. I used to lay in her bed and hold her hand. We used to listen to the radio together and nod off to sleep. You don’t do that with someone you don’t love and don’t care about.”


She gained more exposure later the same year when she swore a few times and stormed off a live television program, apparently drunk.  Are you starting to get the picture?

In 1999, she was nominated for the Turner Prize and showed My Bed, which  was ownher unmade bed  complete with yellow stains, condoms, empty cigarette packs, and blood stained underwear. She had stayed in the bed for several days feeling low possibly after a breakup. Here is an article from the Guairdian about this piece returning to The Tate (it is featured on their landing page).


my bed tracey emin


This isn’t even considered the most famous bed in art history. According to The Guardian, Titian’s  Venus of Urbino is.

Other achievements are:

2007 – chosen to join the Royal Academy of Arts in London as a Royal Academician (I had to look it up – I wish we had something like that here in the US)

2007 – represented Britain in the Venice Biennale


from the Venice Bienalle


from the Venice Bienalle

She has lectured at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the European Graduate School in Switzerland and the Tate Britain – usually about the link between creativity and autobiography.

2011 – appointed Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy – one of the first two female professors since it was founded in 1768!

2013 – became a Commander of the Order of the British Empire -that makes her a Dame!

Elton John, George Michael, Jerry Hall and Orlando Bloom are collectors

David Bowie (who is a friend) once described her as: (I am a BIG Bowie fan!)

“William Blake as a woman, written by Mike Leigh”

When she was in a relationship with artist/poet Billy Childish, he started the Stuckism Movement, he said to her?

“Your paints are stuck, you are stuck – Stuck! Stuck!”

To which she has replied:

“I don’t like it at all….I don’t find it funny, I find it a bit sick and I find it very cruel and I just wish people would get on with their lives and let me get on with mine.”

Again, she has worked in many different forms of art, monoprints, painting, photography, neon, fabric, found objects, installations, films, books and sculpture.

“Being an artist isn’t just about making nice things, or people patting you on the back; it’s a kind of communication, a message.”

I googled alot while researching this..  I found you can buy t-shirts and dishes on her website. I also learned there is much more to Tracey Emin than an unmade bed!


Map she did for London’s transit system


from the London Olympics








images-7Doing this research makes me want to learn more about Sonia Delaunay! She was the first living female artist to have a restrospective exhibition at the Louvre in 1964. She was given  the French Legion of Honor in 1975. Along with her husband, she is credited with cofounding the Orphism art movement (given the name by the poet Apollinaire) which came from Cubism but gave priority to color.  Are you interested yet?

She was born in the Ukraine, educated in St. Petersburg, went to art school in Germany at 18 and then moved to Paris to pursue her artistic calling.

While she was enrolled in the Academie de La Palette in Montparnasse, she spent most of her time in the museums and galleries and was influenced by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse and others that were being shown at the time. During this time she met and married the German gay gallery owner Wilhelm Uhde. Not much is known about this union, it was likely a marriage of convenience. But, it did give Sonia exposure through his gallery.

It was through Uhde’s gallery she met Robert Delaunay. She divorced Uhde and married Delaunay. About Robert she said:

In Robert Delaunay I found a poet. A poet who wrote not with words but with colours.

They had a son in 1911, and the quilt she spontaneously made using geometry and color changed the direction of her art.

I had the idea of making for my son,  – – a blanket composed of bits of fabric like those I had seen in the houses of Russian peasants. When it was finished, the arrangement of the pieces of material seemed to me to evoke cubist conceptions and we then tried to apply the same process to other ojbects and paintings.

The Delaunay’s moved to Spain in 1914.  In 1917 they met Sergei Diaghlilev, (creator of the Ballets Russes) and Sonia designed the costumes for his ballets in Barcelona.


She began selling her designs for interior designs and for fashion.


Bathing suit design by Sonia Delaunay

The family returned to Paris permanently in 1921. Sonia Delaunay began making clothing for private clients and in 1923 created fifty fabric designs using geometrical shapes and bold colors. She even designed costumes for a few French films.

ZigZag After Robert died in 1941, Sonia continued to work as a painting and designer.  At the age of 91 she designed textiles, jewelry and tableware for the French company Artcurial. Her autobiography was published in 1978. She died at the age of 94 in 1979, painting the day of her death!

Her son is jazz expert Charles Delaunay.




Dress designed by Sonia Delaunay

Dress designed by Sonia Delaunay

Do you have a favorite female artist for the letter “D”?  Do you have any suggestions for the letter “E”?




This is part of an on-going series Women in Art Wednesdays

When I first saw Ingrid Calame’s work, I was blown away. Learning about the process she uses changed the way I forever view the world!


What does she do? Along with assistants, she goes out into the world armed with mylar and spends days tracing the world. What do they trace? Sidewalks, graffiti on a river bed, tire marks on the street, an abandoned pool, the floor of the NYSE, or the Indianapolis raceway (yes, you read that right!) to name a few.

When the seemingly random marks are done,  they are combined by overlaying all the drawings. This is what Calame uses for her paintings.



I think it is best in her own words:

Since the early 90s, I have been working with tracing. I go to specific locations to trace marks, stains and cracks on the ground on to architectural Mylar (polyester-based tracing film). From these tracings I make drawings and paintings. I clean the original tracings and layer them on top of each other. Once I’ve piled up the tracings, I place several rectangles of drafting Mylar on top of them. This determines the size of the drawings I will eventually make. I then start to trace the layers of rubbings that are beneath the rectangles, with a different colour pencil for each layer, peeling back the layers one by one until I reach the bottom of the pile. The final drawings are always a surprise.

Tracings from Buffalo

Tracings from Buffalo

I was recently invited to do a resency at the Albright-Knox art gallery in Buffalo, NY. I traced for three weeks with nine assistants for five days a week. We took tracings from a storage hall at the Arcelor Mittal steel plant, from a wading pool, a parking lot. This working process is important – going out into the world.

My journey through tracing different sites, working with and meeting people and seeing their reactions to the work – all this has changed my understanding of representation and abstraction.


It has been said the Ingrid Calame finds beauty in the grime, starting with markings from places in the world that are in plain sight, but of things very few people stop and look at.

Here is a link to an article about the tracing of the Indianapolis Speedway.

Who wants to go exploring Atlanta with me with a couple of rolls of mylar?