Helen Frankenthaler was born on December 12, 1928, in New York City. Her father, Alfred, was a New York State Supreme Court judge who died of cancer when she was 11 years old.
At 15 Helen studied under the Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo at the Dalton School in NYC. At 16 she enrolled at Bennington College in Vermont where she studied under Paul Feeley. After graduation she returned to New York City and studied with painter Hans Hofmann. She became known as a member of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists.
She pioneered her "soak-stain" technique. Working on a large canvas placed on the floor, she thinned oil paints with turpentine and used window wipers, sponges, and charcoal outlines to manipulate the resulting pools of pigment.
In 1957 she met fellow artist Robert Motherwell and they married the following year. Since both Helen and Robert came from wealthy families they were nicknamed "the golden couple."
"There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about."
Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan was born March 7, 1872, in Amersfoort, Netherlands. His father was the headmaster of the local primary school and an amateur artist. He taught Piet to draw while Piet's uncle, an accomplished artist, taught him to paint.
Piet was determined to become a painter but at the insistence of his family he first obtained a degree in education. Then he pursued his art. Until the turn of the century, Mondrian’s paintings followed the trends of art in the Netherlands: landscape and still-life subjects. Gradually he focused on rhythm and harmony through use of colors and lines.
Inspired by Post-Impressionism and Luminism, he used few bold colors and short lines to depict linear movement. This escalated into the early style of De Stijl where the only elements used were horizontal and vertical lines, and the primary colors along with black, white, and gray.
Mondrian is considered one of the pioneers of 20th century abstract art.
Fun fact: Piet Mondrian is an anagram of "I paint modern."
"Everything is expressed through relationships." -Piet Mondrian
Agnes Bernice Martin was born in 1912 in Macklin, Saskatchewan. Her father died when she was 2 and her mother moved the family to Vancouver. Agnes excelled at swimming and just missed qualifying for the Canadian Olympic team, for the 1936 Games in Berlin. At 19, she moved to Bellingham, Washington to help her pregnant sister, Mirabell. She later became a U.S. citizen.
She trained to be a teacher and spent her 20's teaching in various schools in the Pacific Northwest. In 1941, she went to New York City where she studied fine arts at Teachers College, Columbia University. For the next 15 years she shuffleded back and forth between schools in New York and New Mexico, slowly developing herself as a painter. She destroyed all her work from this time period.
At 45, at the suggestion of her then art dealer Betty Parsons, she moved to Coenties Slip in NYC, a community of young artists living and working in abandoned shipping lofts. Over the next 10 years she developed her signature style. Also during this time period she was hospitalized repeatedly. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in early adulthood, and her symptoms included auditory hallucinations, spells of depression and catatonic trances. In 1967, at the height of her career, Agnes left NY for Taos and didn't paint for 7 years.
As she aged, Agnes became happier and more social. She settled in a retirement community in Taos at the foot of Taos Mountain. She drove to her studio to paint every morning. The last few decades of her life were spent painting and writing, her practice becoming a metaphor for her search for tranquility.
Gustav Klimt was born July 14, 1862, in Baumgarten, Austria-Hungary. He was the second of seven children—three boys and four girls. His father was a gold engraver. All three of his sons displayed artistic talent early on.
some interesting facts about Gustav Klimt....
Despite using gold in his paintings and being a fairly successful artist, Gustav was a homebody and led a humble life. He almost always wore his signature long, flowing caftan and sandals (with no underwear apparently.)
He was rumored to have slept with every woman he painted and fathered at least 14 children, though he publicly claimed only four of them. He never married.
He painted a lot of portraits but not a single self-portrait.
“I have never painted a self-portrait. I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women. … There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night…Whoever wants to know something about me…ought to look carefully at my pictures.”
Leonora Carrington was born April 6, 1917, in Lancashire, England. Her father was a wealthy textile manufacturer and she was raised in a Roman Catholic family on a large estate called Crookhey Hall. She was expelled from two schools for her rebellious behavior until her family sent her to Florence, where she attended Mrs Penrose's Academy of Art.
some interesting bits about Leonora:
Her father didn’t want her to become an artist but her mother was encouraging and gave her a copy of Herbert Read’s book on Surrealism in 1936, which had a reproduction of a Max Ernst work on the cover.
At age 20 she met Ernst and began living with him in 1937. He was imprisoned in 1941 during World War II by the French as an “undesirable foreigner,” and later by the German Gestapo after the occupation of France, ending their love affair.
After his imprisonment, Leonora had a mental breakdown. While in an asylum she was given Cardiazol, a drug that caused convulsions similar to shock therapy. She wrote about her experiences in a memoir called Down Below, describing it as if she was taken into an underworld.
She eventually went to the Mexican embassy and moved to Mexico City in 1941, where she lived for the rest of her life. She married Cziki Weiss, a photographer, and they had two sons.
It is estimated that Leonora produced 1,500-2,000 artworks over the course of her lifetime. Her paintings, sculpture, and writings blend fantasy, feminism, religion, and magic.