A leading artist of the second generation of Abstract Expressionism, Helen Frankenthaler knew from a young age that she wanted to be a painter. She had her first solo gallery show at the age of twenty-three in 1951, and painted her landmark work, Mountains and Sea, the following year. In the late 1950s, a printmaking renaissance was beginning, and some of Frankenthaler’s fellow artists began encouraging her to try the medium. In 1961, at the invitation of Tatyana Grosman, Frankenthaler ventured out to Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), Grosman’s Long Island printmaking studio, and began making lithographs. Frankenthaler has said, “After the first day there I felt no hesitation. I was very committed. All I had to do was start work on that print. It was a whole new road-and a very connected road.”
By 1976 Frankenthaler had made about fifty prints, thirty-seven of them at ULAE, in mediums including lithography, intaglio, screenprint, pochoir, and woodcut. In that year, she was invited to the new Bedford, New York, workshop of Kenneth Tyler, formerly of Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles. Working there, she revolutionized woodcut, a medium generally out of favor with artists at that time. With Essence Mulberry, duly inspired by the faded colors of hand-painted fifteenth-century prints seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a lushly ripe mulberry tree on Tyler’s property, Frankenthaler set out to re-create the look of painting with mulberry juice. She carved four blocks, one each of oak, birch, walnut and lauan, all having different printed effects. A reinvention of the technique, the ethereal Essence Mulberry differs from most major woodcuts of the modern period, which tend toward a bold expressionist idiom. To date Frankenthaler has completed about one hundred twenty-five editions and one hundred fifteen monotypes.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Sarah Suzuki, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 146.