Born in New York in 1928, Helen Frankenthaler first studied with Rufino Tamayo at the Dalton School. At Bennington College, Vermont, 1945-49, she received a disciplined grounding in Cubism from Paul Feeley, though her own instincts lay closer to the linear freedom of Arshile Gorky and the color improvisations of Wassily Kandinsky's early work.
In 1950 the critic Clement Greenberg introduced her to contemporary painting. During that summer, she studied with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In 1951 Adolph Gottlieb selected her for an important New Talent exhibition, and she had her first one person show in New York later that year.
The work of Jackson Pollock proved the decisive catalyst to the development of her style. Immediately appreciating the potential, not fully developed by Pollock, of pouring paint directly onto raw unprimed canvas, she thinned her paint with turpentine to allow the diluted color to penetrate quickly into the fabric, rather than build up on the surface.
This revolutionary soak-stain approach not only permitted the spontaneous generation of complex forms but also made any separation of figure from background impossible since the two became virtually fused a technique that was an important influence on the work of other painters, particularly Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland.