Daniel’s Modern Art Review, with Frankenthaler and Retrophiliac

Hello again, and welcome to the Croydon Modern Art and Crafts Blog, and today I want to look at some more gorgeous and beautiful abstract and modern art by Helen Frankenthaler and Canadian artist Retrophiliac (Aka Margaux Wosk) from Vancouver, British Columbia, who in my opinion, is a talented and exciting upcoming modern artist with a unique and colourful style. But first I wish to share more great abstract water colour paintings by the noted American artist Helen Frankenthaler, who is famous particularly in America for pioneering a style of water colour painting known as Field Colour painting, and using simple and expressive bold colours which are soaked into and spread across the frame, and thus allowing them to complement rather than covering up the underlying canvas of her paintings, which give them a very expressive and translucent quality that allows the colours to shine and stand out. Her unique Field Painting style spanned at least four decades, and has made her one of the most celebrated names in modern abstract art in North America in particular.

The first one by Frankenthaler is called ‘Pistacho’, after the type of nut, and dates from 1971 during the height of her Field Colour painting technique, and also displays elements of a style which used turpentine to soak the colours into the canvas, which is called ‘soak stain’ and is responsible for the translucent and water-colour like effects in many of her works, and which also give them a minimalist and expressive quality. This one is a good example of the potency of her Field Colour techniques, as the yellow and orange are very bold and soaked through, and capture the warmth and expressiveness of a bright and hot summers day or which might be found on a fruit tree, or the inside of a pistachio nut as suggested by the painting’s title. Also, the way that the red is superimposed on top of the yellow and blends seamlessly into the orange and brown paints, gives it a very transparent and fluid feel, and also conveys a feeling of energy and movement, as if the brown streams on top are actually down the painting, like tap water or when someone pours coffee during the start of a busy day at work, or in an office after a particularly exhausting and difficult day, and also stains on your shirt after you inadvertently spill said coffee on your trousers, or mostly just the shade on the right side . The translucent quality and liquid ‘soak stain’ patterns evident in the brown also give a very smoky and misty-like quality, and also put me in mind of pouring out a mug of hot chocolate or roast dinner, and indeed the soak pattern seems very reminiscent of smoke, and lends it a very surreal, relaxing and dreamlike atmosphere. Also, the red spot in the middle could be said to be the inside of a pistachio nut, or a gorgeous spring sunset and the elemental quality of the orange and red shades is further enhanced by Frankenthaler’s effective and beautiful use of water colour to create a fluid and blending effect, which further brings out the expressiveness of the colours and gives it a shimmering quality, and also a shining and translucent effect. Although the shade of green on the left is very washed out and doesn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the painting, this is compensated for by the shade of brown on the right which flows like a running river or smoke, and gives the painting a relaxing and elemental quality. The second one by Frankenthaler is called Rapunzel, after the classic fairy tale of the same name, and is interesting in that it consists of just one bold, solid colour for the background whilst all the interesting strokes and shades are in the top half. In addition, it is also interesting how most of the bold shades and water colour are placed on the top of the frame and then flow down, which is fitting as Rapunzel is described as letting her hair flow down and is trapped in a tall tower in the fairy tale, and this seems to represent her isolation from the outside world, and longing to be free and explore it again. Also, it is interesting how bright natural colours like yellow and orange are used at the top, and then in the middle there is a single, thin line or strip of black and then a strip of pink in the middle coming off that, which seems to represent Rapunzel letting her long hair flow down, and using it to escape the tower as rope. It doesn’t seem to be entirely clear why the colours of the rope are black and pink, as in most tales of Rapunzel the hair is usually described as golden or yellow, but this could be a subversion or deliberate attempt to critique the tale by depicting the hair as black or pink, which are traditionally associated with beauty and being very feminine colours. Alternatively, it might simply be because black and pink contrast with each other, and to make them stand out, as the turpentine background enhances the pink, and the way the black just descends down the frame from the ceiling, is also very reminiscent of a fairy tale and folktale, and also creates a feeling that there is a follow-up and the handsome prince will arrive to rescue Rapunzel in the next frame. Also, the way that the black and pink are thin, solid lines in contrast to the ‘soak stain’ patterns on the flowers around them, also make them stand out and create the impression of descending from off-screen, and gives them a very expressive feeling whilst also being solid and vibrant, and gives the painting a relaxing and expressive quality and also a very fairy-tale style atmosphere and vibrancy. In addition, it shows the extent of Frankenthaler’s field Colour techniques, and that she would often paint these in private on the floor at her studio, and this is shown by how the background is solid and very flat but the flowers and rope are created using soak stain and Field Colour shades, which further adds to the expressive and magical qualities of the painting whilst also giving it a very Modernist and minimalist twist on the formula. Also, the contrasting dark and lighter shades and layers of soak stain used in the flowers, which create a striking contrast between dark and lighter shades, further adds to its lyrical abstracted qualities and shows how her water colour techniques create a very colourful and expressive scene with a deft touch and careful use of soak stain and minimalist style and brushstrokes.

The next one I want to share is from modern autistic artist Retrophiliac, who has a very interesting and colourful art style, and creates beautiful prints and artworks based on animals and nature. Her work is currently viewable on her DeviantArt page, and shows influences from both neo-Pop art and comic-book art from the 1960’s and 70’s. The first one I want to highlight is called Space Owl with kroma crackle, textured acrylic gel and glitter, from 2010-2015, and is a very interesting and colourful one, consisting of a multicoloured owl in a spacesuit standing on a representation of Planet Earth, with a cartoon rocket being launched from the Earth into space, and also a representation of a shooting star with the word SPACE OWL written behind it in capital letters and a comet trail following behind, all against a backdrop of a comic-style and glittering, stylised take on outer space. So there is quite a lot going on in this painting, and it is all underpinned by a very colourful and Modernist art style, that makes it look like something that would have been drawn in a comic book during the 1960’s and 70’s. Also it is noteworthy that everything has been drawn in a very abstract and cartoonish style, with little attention paid to scale or the relative sizes of the owl and Earth, and the owl in the spacesuit is drawn in a way that makes him very funky and cool, and is drawn in very loving detail, with a particularly great attention paid to the shapes and patterns on his wings and head, which further enhances it’s modern and cartoonish qualities, and makes it comes alive and amusing, like something from an old-fashioned Cartoon Network show like Toonami and Dexter’s Laboratory. Also, the very subtle and transparent feathers, and golden-brown feathers are another nice touch, and the Saturn planet on his spacesuit seems very NASA-esque, and shows that Retrophiliac seems to be a very keen science-fiction and spaceflight enthusiast, and there is nothing wrong with that, as I am keen on those topics myself and also reminds you of the wonder and excitement of early spaceflight and particularly the Apollo program in the 1960’s and Space Shuttle, and the plans to send human beings to Mars from SpaceX and others, but the former more than the latter and the excitement around early space exploration, and which hopefully SpaceX will continue by putting humans on the Moon and Mars. Also, the acrylic gel and glitter used on the rocket is also very vibrant and colourful and brings out the almost childlike and positive, upward qualities of the rocket and the different shades blend together in a very uplifting and vibrant way. Also, the way that the Space Owl sign follows behind the shooting star is further supplemented by the use of the acrylic gel to create a colourful and shimmering layer on the letters, and further enhances their positive and uplifting qualities, and gives a comic and amusing quality whilst also enhancing the feeling of outer space as a vast and beautiful place to be, and the shooting star is also painted with multiple layers of glitter, which further enhances it’s comic-book and early science fiction feel. In addition, the background feels very New Age and abstract, and the stylised ‘waves’ of gel and white stars make it look very Space Age and reminiscent of the 1960’s and 70’s, and is a fitting tribute to the wonders of space exploration and the feeling of exploring the final frontier, and is also very positive and uplifting and shows how she pays tribute to comic book art whilst also giving it her own unique spin, and is very Star Trek-like, and this raises it further in my own eyes, being as I am a converted Star Trek fan (and also having watched Star Trek: Discovery, which in my view is a very good show). But all that aside, the Space Owl also gives a feeling of being in a wacky and fun Saturday morning cartoon, and is an example of how she pays tribute to pop art of the 60’s and 70’s, but uses the acrylic gel and glitter to give it a unique and dazzling twist on the comic art genre. The second one I wish to talk about s also an owl, and it’s funny how owls are a recurring feature here, and this one is specifically a Tropical Art Owl Wood Magnet, and again I particularly like this one for its bold and expressive use of colour and acrylic gel to create a very vibrant and modern style, and makes it look very adorable and expressive in my view. Also, the black lines of the owl ground it and give it a very distinctive style and enhance the expression and solidity of the owl against the wood and makes it look very modern and like an old-fashioned 80’s cartoon. Also, the use of yellow and pink in the background puts me in mind of a colourful fireworks display, and has a very psychedelic, relaxing and harmonious quality that makes it feel very uplifting and also vibrant but also muted so the colours are not too painful or garish to look at in normal light. Also, it is interesting how there are a lot of abstract and bold colours like blue and green painted into the owl’s face, which reminds me of a disco light or New Age ‘Flower Power’ images of the 60’s and 70’s, and looks like it could have been displayed at one of those anti-war rallies or at the Woodstock Festival, whilst also being very expressive and giving the owl an amusing and cartoonish expression, and also enhancing it’s abstracted qualities. Also, the simple abstract lines and expressions contrast nicely with the bright and kaleidoscopic collection of greens and blues on its face, and give it a very colourful and relaxing but also escapist atmosphere and making look like the owl is radiating warmth and fun, and gives it a relaxing and dreamlike atmosphere and is something I would certainly consider putting on my fridge door.

Anyway that’s all for this week, and next one will be shorter and probably on Sunday or Monday, but there shall be more great abstract and Modern art to come and it will also depend on my NAS job, and how other things go as I am now working on both Tuesday and Friday, but depending on how that goes, there might be a delay between posts, but we can shall see and I will do my best to get this sorted out, and see if I can get another post out this weekend or Monday. But in any case, I have to feed my cats now, so take care and stay tuned, bye for now.


Artists Credits:

  1. Helen Frankenthaler, ‘Pistachio’, c. 1971
  2. Helen Frankenthaler, ‘Rapunzel’, c. 1974
  3. Retrophiliac, Space Owl with Kroma crackle, acrylic gel and glitter, c. 2010-15
  4. Retrophiliac, Tropical Art Owl Wood Magnet from Etsy, c. 2012-2016







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