AiA Lesson Highlight – 5-12 Frankenthaler, Blue Atmosphere

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Helen Frankenthaler was born in New York City in 1928. She developed Color Field painting in the 1960s and 1970s, which involves staining canvases by pouring paint on them and then tipping them to move the paint around. These paintings appear calm since the “soak, stain” method is slower than the style of action painters like Jackson Pollock. Frankenthaler’s paintings were a beautiful blend of motion and color, and she had a great impact on American painters since it forced them to use color in a different way.


The medium Frankenthaler used for Blue Atmosphere is acrylic on canvas. Frankenthaler achieves balance in her work through colors and shapes. They push and pull against each other and against the edge of the picture, creating tension. It is important to notice the negative space that provides a place for the other shapes to move into. The colors form very natural organic shapes that are the result of random spilling and usually have no recognizable shapes. The mood of the painting is meant to be up to the viewer. It could remind you of a relaxed mood, quiet contemplation, a sunset, or a bank of fog.



With this AIA lesson, students will learn how to describe the balance of a painting and experiment with different painting techniques. By making abstract shapes, students can create unique watercolor compositions and are encouraged to limit colors to increase negative space. With blending and splattering different colors, students will see how colors project and recede. Warm colors, like red, appear to project and move towards us. Cool colors, like blue, appear to recede and move away. Students will also be able to experiment with different techniques for adding paint to wet paper. 




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