Making Painting - Turner Contemporary

Schools Resource
Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and J. M. W. Turner
Helen Frankenthaler, Overture, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
This exhibition explores the timeless act of painting through the work of two artists
separated by one hundred years and nearly four thousand miles: J. M. W. Turner (17751851) and Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011).
J. M. W. Turner exhibited his last paintings in London in 1850, the year before he died;
Helen Frankenthaler began her exhibiting career in New York in 1950, aged 22.
Turner, celebrated as a great nineteenth-century painter of landscape, transformed the
way we see and interpret our natural surroundings. In its huge variety, his work
expressed the continuity of landscape, and its interconnectedness with history, its
sense of the particular and of place, and of the manner in which its people have shaped
Frankenthaler, an Abstract Expressionist and Colour Field painter, found landscape to be
a life-long source of ideas and inspiration, if not always of form. ‘My pictures are full of
climates’, she said in 1978. ‘Not nature per se, but a feeling’.
The paintings in this exhibition explore the fellowship that the two artists – a Romantic
nineteenth-century Briton and an Abstract Expressionist twentieth-century American –
share in paint across their temporal divide.
The paintings are not displayed in pairs, but curator James Hamilton says that there are
‘visual rhymings’ between the works of the two artists. As you explore the exhibition,
look out for pairs or groups of paintings by the different artists that ‘rhyme’ with each
other. What makes this happen? Can you find places to stand or sit where you can see
Turner’s work ‘next’ to Frankenthaler? How do they work next to each other?
Your visit:
We suggest that you use open questions in the exhibition to begin to discuss the
artworks, there are a few examples of generic questions below:
What does this artwork remind you of?
What can you see?
What is your first reaction to this artwork?
Can you use your body to mirror any shapes or movements in the artwork?
How does it make you feel?
How do you think it was made?
Is it hot or cold?
How else could you look at this artwork? (For example, upside down)
If you could step into the artwork what would it feel like?
Would you like to have this artwork in your house? Why?
‘Lovely varied activities - good balance between listening and doing’ – Primary School
teacher, Ashford.
We Are Curious is Turner Contemporary’s Learning programme. We aim to embrace
students’ curiosity about visual art, and encourage it to grow into confident and critical
discussion of artists and their work. We offer a range of activities for schools and
community groups to book, from ‘hands-on philosophy’ tours with our trained team,
discussion sessions using our handling collections, to practical sessions which explore
the practice of exhibiting artists. You are also welcome to lead your own visit, using our
free resources for support. You are also welcome to use our beautiful Clore Learning
Studio. We ask all groups to make a booking with us if they are intending to visit. To do
so, please email [email protected] and we’ll aim to get back to you within
three days. Turner Contemporary is open Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 – 18.00 and is closed
on Mondays except Bank Holidays.
West Gallery
Helen Frankenthaler: works of the 1950s and early 1960s
Helen Frankenthaler travelled widely as a young woman, both within the eastern states
of the USA, and to Europe. Her early paintings show landscape to be a potent and
persistent source. As she put it, she would ‘translate’ landscapes into abstract
compositions, gradually moving them away from their formal sources.
New Jersey Landscape (1952) reveals Frankenthaler’s interest in atmosphere beginning
to supersede her concern with the formal appearance of a particular place, even though
the title of the work retains its location. Modest though it is in size, it reflects the young
artist’s instinctive understanding that nature lies at the beginning of art, and that it is
with paintings like New Jersey Landscape that her journey begins.
Hotel Cro-Magnon (1958) reflects the growing physicality that entered Frankenthaler’s
painting during the 1950s. With the larger works in this gallery she began her lifelong
practice of painting on the floor, her paint flooding and staining, rather than dripping.
Nevertheless, there is often a narrative purpose in her work, Hotel Cro-Magnon being the
name of the hotel where she and her then husband, the painter Robert Motherwell,
stayed when they travelled together in Europe. The cursive black line in Hotel Cro-
Magnon is an intimation of the cave paintings the couple saw together in the prehistoric
caves at Lascaux in France.
Helen Frankenthaler, Hotel Cro-Magnon, Courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum
In Seascape with Dunes (1962) the process of abstraction is more or less complete,
though the huge scale and the shimmering quality of this work suggests that a landscape
has actually entered the building. Frankenthaler’s method of painting, in which the oil
medium has over time soaked out of the pigment and into the canvas, allows the paint
itself to have a voice. Of Swan Lake 1 (1961) she recalled: ‘I started with blue, and a
rather arbitrary beginning. At some point I recognised the birdlike shape – I was ready for
it - and I developed it from there.’
Activity: In the gallery give each pupil a piece of paper and a pencil. Ask them to draw
lines and shapes filling the paper. Pupils then swap these drawings, and find
recognisable shapes in someone else’s drawing. Back at school paint can be added to
emphasise the shapes that have been found. Younger pupils could link this to Anthony
Browne’s Shape Game
Activity: At school, give pupils large sheets of paper or fabric and ask them to work on
the floor. How does it feel to make a painting on the ground? Frankenthaler loved to
dance and her painting was physical. How are the pupils’ large paintings different to
small pictures that they create at a desk? Did it feel very different to make them?
South Gallery
J. M. W. Turner: Paintings across a lifetime, 1790s to the late 1840s
Throughout his life, travel was a crucial source of ideas and inspiration for Turner. He
travelled many hundreds of miles around Britain by coach, horse and boat, and into
Europe, as far south as Naples, and east to Prague. His experience of travel allowed him
to translate what he saw into works which do far more than introduce us to a place: he
explores the continuity of landscape, how one landscape moves into another, and in
addition gives us history, literature and myth, bonded together in a chromatic and
painterly expression. Many works evoke mood, feeling and metaphor far more than literal
There are within his work graphic and compositional forms common to painting across
the ages. The determined horizontal in The Evening Star (c.1830), dividing the painting
into two distinct zones, has something of abstraction about it. However, it should be
stressed that abstraction was not one of Turner’s goals here. While this work found great
fame in the twentieth century, it is probably incomplete, and is certainly not in what
Turner might have considered to be an exhibitable state. Its simplicity leads it to being
one of Turner’s most lyrical works, revealing his understanding of the importance of
formal design over narrative content. This finds its echo in Frankenthaler’s work, as do
compositional devices such as the mirrored pyramid in Calais Sands (1830), and the
interlocking framed device in The Falls of the Clyde (c.1840-50).
Activity: Ask pupils to paint a feeling about a place. How does it differ to what others
might see if they were there? If they use words to write about the place, is it easier or
harder to convey an atmosphere?
JMW Turner, The Evening Star, 1830, oil on canvas, © The National Gallery, London. Turner Bequest, 1856
Calm in The Evening Star gives way to a storm in Waves Breaking on the Shore (c.184045). The composition of both, however, is identical, but the latter reflects the violence
and energy generated by a storm at sea. Empty of figures, or any human reference, this
work shows Turner at his most elemental, but giving us sufficient nuance to know that
this is not the worst that the sea can do – this storm is just a polite warning.
Corridor gallery
J. M. W. Turner and Helen Frankenthaler
This gallery features smaller works by both Turner and Frankenthaler. While we will not
find any dependency of the younger on the older artist, we can nevertheless detect a
common language which works through the eye, not the word. In throwing off the burden
of art history, we can perhaps simply enjoy and compare what we see.
Paintings in this and the previous room reflect some of the many faces of Turner, from
the rich precision he adopts in The Bright Stone of Honour (Ehrenbreitstien) (1835),
Rome, from Mount Aventine (1836) and Nottingham, Nottinghamshire (1832), to the
untamed elemental effects in The Foot of St Gothard (c.1842).
Some works slip into another category altogether, for example, On the Sea Shore
(c.1830-35). The title is a curator’s name for the work, but a cursory glance will show that
it is made up from random blots and marks, some turned into figures, others into a jetty,
perhaps the now-demolished jetty at Margate. Turner once claimed ‘I never lose an
accident’, meaning just that – he was able to find an image in even the least promising of
beginnings, thus unknowingly preparing a way for Abstract Expressionism.
The journey that Turner took in his use of paint across sixty years of working had a
profound effect on artists of subsequent generations, from Impressionists to
Expressionists. Many discovered through Turner a painterly freedom that they were also
discovering for themselves. Among these artists was Helen Frankenthaler.
North Gallery
Helen Frankenthaler: works of the early 1960s to 1990s
Frankenthaler is a painter of scale. Working horizontally enabled her to create such
expansive works as The Bay (1963), Saturn (1963), Burnt Norton (1972) and Lush Spring
(1973). Characterised by flooding colour, these are classic works revealing Frankenthaler
in her prime. The Bay has an optimistic and joyous mood, evoked by a bright tonality in
which one critic counted nine distinct and different blues. While its title suggests a
geographical feature, there is something else within it that destroys that obvious
connection. While being drawn magnetically to a landscape form here, Frankenthaler
veers away from it, as it were, at the last minute, and takes her audience elsewhere.
Helen Frankenthaler, Burnt Norton, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc.Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
In Burnt Norton there are references which take it beyond its evident landscape form,
towards a dark centre that evokes mood, emotion and the human. The work’s title refers
to T. S. Eliot’s poem of the same name which Frankenthaler had in mind as she worked.
Eliot draws out deep resonances in his poem, in which ‘human kind / Cannot bear very
much reality’: a most profound statement, and one highly appropriate in terms of
Frankenthaler’s work.
In later works such as For E.M. (1981) Frankenthaler used impasto, thickly worked paint
sometimes splashed on the canvas. Frankenthaler saw herself as part of a long tradition
of painters, paying homage to many great artists including Edouard Manet, to whom For
E.M. is dedicated. This is a large scale evocation of Manet’s Still Life with Carp (1864),
which, like some landscape subjects, Frankenthaler has ‘translated’: ‘this Manet
painting … challenged me to find out why this is such a good picture’, she recalled.
While it is not recorded that Turner was in her mind as she painted the stormy sea-like
Barometer (1992), its parallels with paintings such as Turner’s Waves Breaking on the
Shore are evident. Both artists use bold gestures, and energetic splashing of paint to
secure the final image, and both avoid human, architectural or even narrative reference
to create comfort.
Discussion point: Talk about the statement ‘human kind / Cannot bear very much reality’
which is from T.S. Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton which inspired Frankenthaler to make a
painting of the same name.
Activity: Frankenthaler sometimes made paintings in response to artworks made by
other artists, for example, Edouard Manet. Pupils could look through books of historical
paintings and choose a picture that they like. Rather than copying it, can they make their
own work inspired by the painting, for example, by its colour or light?
With thanks to James Hamilton, Guest Curator of Making Painting who has given
permission for his text to be used in the Schools Resource
Other exhibitions to explore:
Clore Learning Studio
Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawing #1136
3 December 2013- 8 June 2014
Sol LeWitt was a pioneer of minimal and conceptual art, known in particular for his series
of graphite and later, ink and acrylic wall drawings, executed in a particular site
according to a set of guidelines written by the artist. Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #1136
goes on display in Turner Contemporary’s Clore Learning Studio, a beautiful space with
superb views out to the North Sea. The artist’s affinity for nature is particularly acute in
this work, which employs the colours of the spectrum, plus grey, to dazzling effect.
Forthcoming exhibitions:
Summer 2014
Mondrian and Colour
24 May – 21 September 2014
Turner Contemporary offers an exclusive UK viewing of the first major exhibition to
consider the significance of colour during Piet Mondrian’s early career. Mondrian and
Colour explores Mondrian’s (1872-1944) practice, tracing the painter’s use of colour from
figuration to early abstraction. Bringing together around 40 paintings by the artist from
the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and other collections in Europe and the USA, the
exhibition will demonstrate that Mondrian’s abstract works were not simply
mathematical exercises in form but also expressed his search for a new universal
harmony. Turner Contemporary is working in partnership with Tate Liverpool, who will
present the concurrent exhibition Mondrian and his Studios: Abstraction into the World
from 6 June until 21 September 2014.
Autumn 2014
Jeremy Deller: English Magic
11 October 2014 –11 January 2015
Commissioned by the British Council this new exhibition by Jeremy Deller was conceived
and created for the British Pavilion at the 55th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale
di Venezia in 2013. The exhibition reflects the roots of much of Deller’s work, focusing on
British society such as its people, icons, myths, folklore and its cultural and political
history. Deller weaves together high and low, popular and rarefied to create unique and
thought provoking work. The exhibition forms part of a national tour, supported by the
Art Fund and the first of its kind, that concludes at Turner Contemporary.
Sunley Gallery
Juan Muñoz: Conversation Piece III, 2001
Until 23 February 2014
Juan Muñoz is known for his unsettling sculptures of individuals or groups placed in
architectural settings. Figures from his Conversation Piece series (groups of bronze or
resin figures are arranged in carefully staged groupings, apparently frozen midconversation) is on display in this double height space overlooking the North Sea. Like
many of Munoz’ figures, they are slightly smaller than life-sized, playing with our sense
of scale and perspective.
Edmund de Waal
March 2014 – February 2015
Turner Contemporary showcases a brand new commission for its Sunley Gallery by
Edmund de Waal. De Waal, who grew up in Canterbury, is renowned for his work in
ceramics, in particular his large scale installations of porcelain vessels. For this
ambitious new commission he will create an installation in response to the space, light
and architecture of the Sunley Gallery. The installation coincides with the publication of
a new monograph on the artist published by Phaidon Press.
The Learning Team at Turner Contemporary is:
Karen Eslea, Head of Learning
Beatrice Prosser-Snelling, Schools Officer
Nova Auty, Zoe Bates, Joan Hobson, Stacy Keeler, Nova Marshall, Shauna-Aine O’Brien,
Lucy Pettet, Mathew Phillips, Mandy Quy-Verlander, Sue Rumsey, Fiona Taylor, Jan