helen frank

I always kind of laugh when people get into the “Susan’s treatment is proof that C.S. Lewis was a misogynist” thing, because:

Polly and Digory. Peter and Susan. Edmund and Lucy. Eustace and Jill. 

Out of the eight “Friends of Narnia” who enter from our world, the male-to-female character ratio is exactly 1/1. Not one of these female characters serves as a love interest at any time. 

The Horse and His Boy, the only book set entirely in Narnia, maintains this ratio with Shasta and Aravis, who, we are told in a postscript, eventually marry. Yet even here, the story itself is concerned only with the friendship between them. Lewis focuses on Aravis’ value as a brave friend and a worthy ally rather than as a potential girlfriend–and ultimately, we realize that it’s these qualities that make her a good companion for Shasta. They are worthy of each other, equals. 

In the 1950s, there was no particularly loud cry for female representation in children’s literature. As far as pure plot goes, there’s no pressing need for all these girls. A little boy could have opened the wardrobe (and in the fragmentary initial draft, did). Given that we already know Eustace well by The Silver Chair, it would not seem strictly necessary for a patently ordinary schoolgirl to follow him on his return trip to Narnia, yet follow she does–and her role in the story is pivotal. Why does the humble cab-driver whom Aslan crowns the first King of Narnia immediately ask for his equally humble wife, who is promptly spirited over, her hands full of washing, and crowned queen by his side? Well, because nothing could be more natural than to have her there. 

None of these women are here to fill a quota. They’re here because Lewis wanted them there. 

Show me the contemporary fantasy series with this level of equality. It doesn’t exist. 

Surprise Pairings - Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and J.M.W. Turner at the Turner Contemporary

The last time Helen Frankenthaler’s large scale paintings were on display in the UK, was in 1969 at the Whitechapel Gallery. Fast forward to 2014 and the artist’s abstract landscapes have been hung alongside the landscapes of J.M.W. Turner in the exhibition ‘Making Painting’ at the Turner Contemporary, Margate. Playful parallels between the two artists, whose lives and careers were separated by thousands of miles and nearly a century, is suggested in this exhibition of a 19th century Romanticist and a 20th century Abstract Expressionist who share similarities in their atmospheric treatment of natural landscapes.

Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), an influential, female, figure in the macho world of Abstract Expressionism, was described by Morris Louis as “the bridge between Pollock and what was possible” after seeing her most famous work Mountains and Sea (1952), unfortunately not included in the show at Turner Contemporary. Her romantic relationship with Clement Greenberg, from 1950 to 1955, and his enthusiasm towards her work led to a perception of Frankenthaler as being ‘the transitional bridge’ between Abstract Expressionism and Colour Field Painting, the movement with which her work is most associated with. This categorisation is evident in her unique method of painting, arguably an evolved version of Pollock’s drip paintings. By diluting her oil paints with turpentine, Frankenthaler managed to create a subtle yet poetic colour that soaked into the canvas - absorbed by its two-dimensional surface, rather than creating a surface in itself. We see this method in practice both in Mountains and Sea and in Sun Dial (1964), where one sees how the artist extended Pollock’s style by a reversal of its terms; wide areas of diluted paint recreated the non-hierarchical chaos of Pollock’s work in a more elaborate colour scheme and divorced the work from any religious or personal connotations, leaving a purely optical painting – in line with an aesthetic valued by Greenbergian art philosophy. In Barbara Rose’s book about the artist, Frankenthaler is quoted saying: “A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once. It’s an immediate image”. But interestingly, her work is never fully divorced from personal intuition as her later landscapes, painted from memory, suggest.

The pairing of Frankenthaler and Turner is as surprising as it is fitting in terms of the works on display in three of the rooms of the sea side gallery. Many great painters spring to mind when comparing Frankenthaler’s abstract works to the art of the past. Affinities with Cezanne’s rich landscapes can be found in her work as well as compositional similarities to Kandinsky’s abstract works. Perhaps most striking is the articulation of Pollock’s drip method found in Frankenthaler’s work. So the pairing of a nineteenth century Romantic painter, like Turner, seems less obvious. But it is in Frankenthaler’s art from the 1990’s that Turner’s influence begins to surface, such as in Barometer (1992) with its atmospheric and bewildering visuals of seascape. While much of Turner’s early work cannot be classified as abstract, his late works – particularly his watercolour sketches like Trematon Castle, Cornwall c. 1828 – are often discussed in terms of their increasing abstraction of form and colour. It seems as if atmospheric expression takes hold of the artist’s sea and landscapes, whose intense hues and shimmering colours he painted so eloquently. This is particularly evident in the work Stormy Sea Breaking on a Shore c. 1840-1845, whose influence profoundly resonates in Frankenthaler’s 1992 work Barometer.

The richness in Frankenthaler’s work comes from the vast amount of artists in the trajectory of art history, with which she was inspired by. In her stunning painting Blue Fall (1966), the harmonious and vast fields of colour evoke the work of Matisse, For E.M. (1982), a tribute to Edouart Manet, is suggestive of being an abstract reproduction of a still life by the French canon himself, and indeed J.M.W. Turner. While we are cautioned not to draw too many connections between Frankenthaler and Turner the exhibition recognises their shared, passionate interest in the atmospheric representation of nature – or rather representations from a memory of natural landscapes. Its curator, James Hamilton, elaborates that the show reveals “the fellowship that the two artists share in paint across their temporal divide, and the vibrant correspondences which uncover something of the timeless cerebral foundations of landscape art”. ‘Making Painting’ runs at the Turner Contemporary until the 11th of May, 2014.


History of Narnia: The Beginning

Called “The Dawn” in many history books, this era was characterized by innovation, wonder, and growth. After Aslan created the new world, King Frank and Queen Helen were given the daunting task of establishing a system of transport, communication, economy, and government, with citizens that were still attempting to differentiate between the sky and the sea. Although it was difficult, the new royalty took it in stride and were loved by many. Their children would go on to populate Archenland, Telmar, and nearby islands, where the Narnian legacy would live on for many years to come. Socially and culturally, the country first resembled late 19th century Britain, with fashion, speech, and architecture influenced heavily by the upper-class. Despite these many similarities, politically and economically the new nation gave more freedoms to its citizens and relied more heavily on its parliament as well as a committee that any citizen could join to air any grievances. Ultimately, this was an age of joy, not only for the citizens, but for the royalty as well. 

You know what I want a crap ton of?? Headcanons of Queen Helen and King Frank. They were literally the very first humans in Narnia and we know absolutely nothing about them. What were they like as rulers? What did they look like? What were their ages? Were they happily married? How did they meet? How long had they been married for before they were sent to Narnia? How did they adapt to Narnia? I just need so many headcanons about them because they’re such huge mysteries and Lewis isn’t around to answer questions, so might as well get the headcanon-ball rolling with these two.