Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Philip Pearlstein + Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler (image courtesy of the artist) Japanese Maple, 2005Sixteen color Ukiyo-e style woodcut printed with ninewoodblocks on Torinoko paper mounted onto Hahnemuhle paper 26 x 38 inches Edition 43 of 50
My art review repost from a show in November 2011

I can’t believe I was able to see two complete shows of paintings by Philip Pearlstein and woodcuts of Helen Frankenthaler in one place, but only the Talley Dunn Gallery could deliver such an epic duel exhibition. I felt like I was transported to the Fort Worth Modern or maybe even the MOMA in New York City. The show was something to behold, because it was full of surprises.

I had this romantic notion that Philip Pearlstein was an extremely meticulous photorealist. I’d seen several books on his work, but had never experienced the work in person. Now, his work in the 1970’s might have been photorealistic, but his current work uses more loose brush strokes and you can really experience the paint on the surface of the canvas. I even saw a painting of a rug overlap a person’s leg. This unexpectedly painterly style made the work a little more informal and playful.

Now if you’re familiar with Pearlstein’s work, you know that he is still cropping figures at odd angles with the edge of the canvas, but he also crops the models with what looks to be antiques. One picture even uses a mirror effect to crop a foot in an odd direction. The compositions of Pearlstein’s paintings are pure genius. He uses the unique items and people as overlapping lines. I get the feeling that figures and objects are equally important. It is almost as if these paintings are complex figure-ground relationships, and the background shapes switch perception with the figure.

Helen Frankenthaler has to be categorized as an Abstract Expressionist and a Color Field artist and these two descriptions are good and important, but they don’t quite cover all the subtle nuances that come into play with her work. I find a lot of her paintings to have this translucent quality that seems to make the work more like water colors. The abstract objects are not over worked in an emotional battle, but more laid on with a flowing expression of spontaneity. In one of the works, a simulated brush stroke, like Lichtenstein, has appeared and another wood cut reflects the look of wood grain. These elements creeping into her work are important, because Frankenthaler has embraced mixing styles of many contemporary artists, which continues to make her work fresh and very relevant.

Although Pearlstein’s and Frankenthaler’s style and approach differ in such radical ways, and seeing these two together in separate galleries of Talley Dunn Gallery was really quite exciting. I learned a great deal more about the artists just by viewing the works. Just goes to show, a book of artists’ work is no substitute to experiencing the real thing.
For more images from the show go to

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