A dazzling biography of one of the twentieth century's most respected painters, Helen Frankenthaler, as she came of age as an artist in postwar New York
"The magic of Alexander Nemerov's portrait of Helen Frankenthaler in Fierce Poise is that it reads like one of Helen's paintings. His poetic descriptions of her work and his rich insights into the years when Helen made her first artistic breakthroughs are both light and lush, seemingly easy and yet profound. His book is an ode to a truly great artist who, some seventy years after this story begins, we are only now beginning to understand."--Mary Gabriel, author of Ninth Street Women
At the dawn of the 1950s, a promising and dedicated young painter named Helen Frankenthaler, fresh out of college, moved back home to New York City to make her name. By the decade's end, she had succeeded in establishing herself as an important American artist of the postwar period. In the years in between, she made some of the most daring, head-turning paintings of her day and also came into her own as a woman: traveling the world, falling in and out of love, and engaging in an ongoing artistic education. She also experienced anew--and left her mark on--the city in which she had been raised in privilege as the daughter of a judge, even as she left the security of that world to pursue her artistic ambitions.
Brought to vivid life by acclaimed art historian Alexander Nemerov, these defining moments--from her first awed encounter with Jackson Pollock's drip paintings to her first solo gallery show to her tumultuous breakup with eminent art critic Clement Greenberg--comprise a portrait as bold and distinctive as the painter herself. Inspired by Pollock and the other male titans of abstract expressionism but committed to charting her own course, Frankenthaler was an artist whose talent was matched only by her unapologetic determination to distinguish herself in a man's world.
Fierce Poise is an exhilarating ride through New York's 1950s art scene and a brilliant portrait of a young artist through the moments that shaped her.
About the Author
Alexander Nemerov is the Carl and Marilyn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities and the Chair of the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University. In 2019, he received the Lawrence A. Fleischman Award for Scholarly Excellence in the Field of American Art History from the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art. He is the author of several books, including Soulmaker: The Times of Lewis Hine and Summoning Pearl Harbor.
“Neither conventional biography nor arm’s-length critical appraisal, Alexander Nemerov’s Fierce Poise shines a light on Helen Frankenthaler’s early artistic breakthrough by blending both forms. . . . A thrillingly alive account of a woman unapologetically pursuing her own vision in an era and a milieu largely defined by men.” —Vogue
“Moody and textured, Fierce Poise celebrates, and mimics, Frankenthaler’s sweetly explosive paintings.” —Vulture
“The magic of Alexander Nemerov’s portrait of Helen Frankenthaler in Fierce Poise is that it reads like one of Helen's paintings. His poetic descriptions of her work and his rich insights into the years when Helen made her first artistic breakthroughs are both light and lush, seemingly easy and yet profound. His book is an ode to a truly great artist who, some seventy years after this story begins, we are only now beginning to understand.”—Mary Gabriel, author of Ninth Street Women
“Throughout his book, Alexander Nemerov refers to Frankenthaler as ‘Helen,’ even though the two never met. By the time I was done reading, I was calling her that, too, and felt she and I had a close connection. It takes courage for a major scholar to assume the personal approach, and voice, that Nemerov does in this biography, but by plunging so deep into Frankenthaler’s mind and life, he makes new sense of the veils and stains in her paintings.”—Blake Gopnik, author of Warhol
"Fierce Poise is an exquisite blend of biography and criticism that excavates Helen Frankenthaler’s creative beginnings—and so much more. Every page sparks with Alexander Nemerov’s deep knowledge and insights into the everyday exaltations and terrors of making art of any kind, at any time. Anyone who burns to forge their own life should read this book."—Kate Bolick, author of Spinster
“Reading Alexander Nemerov’s Fierce Poise felt like basking in the sun on the first warm day of spring. With great sensitivity, Nemerov demonstrates why Helen Frankenthaler’s colorful, beautiful paintings deserve our attention. And with warmth and empathy, he chronicles Helen’s devotion to her art, which she maintained even in times of turmoil. I finished reading the book feeling newly attuned to the brief moments of grace and joy that can be found in daily life. Fierce Poise, like Helen’s paintings, shows us how art can drive away darkness, leaving us to take in the brilliant day.”—Maggie Doherty, author of The Equivalents