Abstract expressionist painter Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) carries a deep fascination with color and light from childhood to adulthood.
In Frankenthaler’s wealthy, white Manhattan family, her parents nurture her artistic tendency toward abstraction—but her schools demand realism. A downcast Frankenthaler creeps past eight easels displaying eight identical pear paintings, while across the page, another version of her dances in midair, brushes in both hands, trailing swirls of nonrepresentational orange. In adulthood, she embraces her own path. The narration frames her artistic motivations as primarily emotional, undermining her deliberate aesthetic decisions. Moreover, though the textual descriptions of Frankenthaler’s process are gorgeous (“Colors jetéd across the painting, merged and connected, like rivers into oceans”), neither the colorist’s groundbreaking “soak-stain” technique—oils thinned with turpentine so they seep like watercolors—nor her level of influence as “one of the major Abstract Expressionists of the twentieth century” are mentioned until the bountiful backmatter. Sicuro’s watercolor, ink, and charcoal pencil illustrations are spirited, the ones about art process especially buoyant; her use of watercolor is actually a better match for Frankenthaler’s look than oils would have shown without Frankenthaler’s own soak-stain technique. However, there’s one enormous visual mismatch: Frankenthaler’s work features paint that soaks, flows, bleeds, and wetly saturates canvas, while Sicuro uses mostly controlled and neatly identifiable brush strokes.
Greatly enthusiastic, but it waters down Frankenthaler’s actual work and importance. (timeline, activities, author’s notes, quotes and sources, primary and secondary bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)