Response to Helen Frankenthaler’s “A Slice of the Stone Itself”


Francesca Miller

The composition of A Slice of the Stone Itself, despite its simplicity, was methodically planned. A collection of four working proofs printed in advance of the final print’s production serves to illuminate Frankenthaler’s process and demonstrate the careful attention given to all aspects of the work’s composition. The first proof was printed on newsprint, indicating that Frankenthaler began to formulate the placement of her imagery and develop a color palette prior to the selection of paper.[1] For Frankenthaler, the process of choosing paper was not arbitrary and required collaboration. In reference to the exercise, Frankenthaler stated “I love it and it is meaningless…[Concern with paper] can be overdone…certain papers grab me, but often I let the master printer strongly hint or direct what paper to use.”[2] The handmade French paper on which the final edition of A Slice of the Stone Itself was printed was used for the second through fourth proofs, while the exact imagery and colors of the print were not yet settled.[3]

The second working proof exemplifies Frankenthaler’s interest in the organization of compositional elements and the selection of colors. The blue line that appears in the final version of the piece is printed twice on the second proof, with one line positioned slightly above the other.[4] Frankenthaler settled on the higher line placement for the final version of the print.[5] Experimentation with color is evidenced in the second working proof by the printing of six lines and one smudge in varying shades of yellow.[6] The smudge’s ochre hue appears to be the color that was decided upon for the line in the lower right portion of the final print.[7] Decisions related to organization and coloration of forms took Frankenthaler considerable time to make; changes were often made over a span of months or years before a final product was formulated.[8]

Frankenthaler explored similar thematic content in additional prints produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Southwest Blues, Venice, Blue Rail, and Connected by Joy each feature textural planes of color coupled with lines.[9] Started in 1969 and completed four years later in 1973, Connected by Joy most closely resembles A Slice of the Stone Itself. Like A Slice of the Stone Itself, Connected by Joy was printed on handmade taupe paper and features organic fields of color loosely connected by lines of red, yellow, and blue. Connected by Joy, however, was printed using etching and sugar-lift aquatint instead of lithography. Additionally, Connected by Joy is oriented horizontally while A Slice of the Stone Itself assumes a vertical position. Frankenthaler’s application of like nonrepresentational subject matter to divergent printmaking methods illustrates the artist’s enthusiasm for experimentation with a variety of media and her, “inability to be satisfied until she has tried dozens of combinations and permutations of shapes, colors, and papers.”[10]

[1] Pegram Harrison, Frankenthaler: A Catalog Raisonné, Prints 1961-1994 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, 1996), 10.

[2] Fine, 18.

[3] Harrison, 10.

[4] Harrison, 10.

[5] Harrison, 10.

[6] Harrison, 10.

[7] Harrison, 10.

[8] Harrison, 11.

[9] Harrison, 20.

[10] Harrison, 20

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