The influence of West Coast Abstract artist June Wayne is unmistakable in the Southern California landscape. Wayne revitalized the practice of Lithography beginning in 1960 with the founding of the famed Tamarind Lithography Workshop. Marie Chambers, Director of Louis Stern Fine Arts reflects on the life, legacy, work of the Los Angeles luminary. Eloquent Visionary is the first solo exhibition of her work since her death in 2011. On view through July 27, 2013 Louis Stern Fine Arts has assembled a broad range of paintings and prints from the early fifties through the mid-eighties.
An iconic presence in the Los Angeles scene for half a century, June Wayne was simultaneously a printmaker, a painter, a teacher, a writer, a filmmaker, an inspired organizer, a rabble rouser extraordinaire and a champion for the arts via objects, words and deeds. She began her pursuit of an art career at the age of 15 and though she frequently looked back, she never slowed down.
In the earliest paintings (The Chase 1949, The Advocate, 1951), Wayne arranges brightly colored forms in carefully sequenced patterns. Blue diamond shapes explode and recede into a silhouette. Banners of an irradiant shade of orange bisect curvilinear graphics. The dramatic shifts in palette as well as the strong lines of the composition generate the illusion of texture within the paint itself.
In the important print series’ of the fifties (The Justice Series, The Kafka Series, The Donald Bear Series and The John Donne Series), this illusion of texture is created without the shimmering color. The artist’s narrative is articulated in complex combinations of sharply delineated forms swathed in soft-focus consistencies: clouds or chiffon, running water, sand and silk. Wayne’s prints seem to embroider shadow, substance and light itself with a dazzling array of black, gray and cream.
Given the high-minded nature of the subject material in tandem with the technical accomplishment of the previous series, Wayne’s creation of the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in 1960 seems a perfect compliment to the artist’s passion for print as a fine art medium. Armed with a sizable grant from the Ford Foundation– no small feat in any decade!– Wayne and her Tamarind Workshop became the go-to professional training/producing ground for painters and sculptors as well as printers. Richard Diebenkorn, Josef and Anni Albers, Louise Nevelson, Philip Guston and Ynez Johnston were among the multitude of participants. The workshop continues today as the Tamarind Institute at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.
Though the program has been somewhat altered to address the demands of 21st Century art-production, the mission of the institution continues to be very much of June Wayne’s making. Under her leadership, because of her leadership, the Workshop effectively transformed the quality as well as the ambitions related to printmaking in the United States.
The artist once explained that as a ‘nearsighted kid’ she studied the funny pages up close and was astonished to discern each line, each image as a multitude of dots. The idea of building a larger picture by a delicate arrangement of smaller complete units found a perfect expression in her work as a printer. Her on-going investigation of image, narrative and identity was ever a supreme act of deductive reasoning, a revelation of de-construction.
Perhaps, Wayne’s free-ranging creative practice owes more to the current century than the past. Perhaps her willingness to use any means or any medium necessary is part of what keeps the work fresh. Perhaps her tireless exploration of self combined with her determination to pay her own way on her own terms seems completely now. Personal histories aside, image by image and year after productive year, the artist’s work earns the viewer’s interest and respect in equal measure. But more remarkably, as depicted by work in this retrospective, she feels like one of us.
All images ©The June Wayne Collection, LLC and Louis Stern Fine Arts