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JUNE WAYNE

by Betty Ann Brown


"Solar Refraction," lithograph,
17 1/4 x 17 1/8", 1981.

 

 



"Knock," chine colle on paper,
7 7/8 x 8 1/2", 1996.

 

 

"Debristream," lithograph,
11 1/8 x 9 3/8", 1979.

(Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA], West Hollywood) Artist, writer and activist June Wayne's career has spanned more than six decades. The Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College, State University of New York served as organizer of this retrospective of Wayne's work that now comes to Los Angeles.

Wayne has worked in numerous media--painting, prints, film, video, tapestry and collage. She has employed detailed realism, complex narrative formats, self-generated symbol systems, and abstraction. The content of her art ranges from the personal to the social, from literary references to science-based data from genetics and astrophysics. The artist writes that she wants her work to "kiss the eye" and describes art as "a pleasure of the head that permeates one's other parts the way rain spreads through a blotter."

The Tunnel [1949] is one among several works that explore the image of a tunnel as a metaphor for sight (optical phenomena) and insight (psychological deepening). Inspired by an epiphany experienced as she drove through the Second Street Tunnel in downtown L.A., this painting is a dynamically spiraling composition. The allusion to movement through time and space comes out of Wayne's study of vision and the rules of perspective.

The Cavern [1948] also draws the eye into an implied distance. But instead of combining references to streets and other urban structures, as did Tunnel, Cavern swirls with symbolic figures taken from her own Kafka Series. The artist has read Franz Kafka since her teens, and is a great admirer of his writing style as well as of his vision of the ambiguities of justice and authority. In various paintings and lithographs from the late 1940s and 1950s, the "cryptic creatures" that comprise her lexicon of Kafka symbols balance in columns, race across horizontal registers, and tumble off ledges and ladders. The creatures are sometimes mushroom-headed humanoids, sometimes what appear to be Surreal hieroglyphs. In Cavern they are propelled out of, or--more likely--sucked into a dark void that appears to hover deep behind the plane of the canvas. Wayne points out that viewers who close one eye and focus on the white center of the painting experience an optical illusion: The creatures leap into three-dimensional space. Such visual puns often appear in Wayne's art as sub-text, but one has to be an initiate to discover them.

In 1959, Wayne founded, and for ten years directed, the highly experimental Tamarind Lithography Workshop, which successfully revitalized the fine art of lithography in the United States. There she did a series involving images of lemmings, the small rodents that commit mass suicide by throwing themselves into the sea. Arlene Raven writes that Wayne's At Least a Thousand [1965], "takes a long view of lemmings. They march in a circle, some falling by the wayside into oblivion in the landscape of a cataclysmic galaxy. There are four lithography states to this image. Wayne thinks of these not only as four seconds of an atomic blast, but also as a galaxy which resembles, in retrospect, a subsequent photo of Andromeda taken by NASA. In 1971 Wayne traveled to Paris to turn this and several others images into tapestries.
Fifteen years after the death of her mother, Dorothy Kline, in 1960, Wayne undertook a series of twenty biographical lithographs that became The Dorothy Series. These begin with an old family photo of eight-year old Dorothy and her family just prior to their departure from Russia in 1907. A negative reverse of the image signals the family's arrival at Ellis Island. A compelling artistic biography of an immigrant of that time, The Dorothy Series includes reproductions of documents from Dorothy's report card to her secretarial certificate, to tax returns, marriage and divorce forms; portraits of her feminist, pacifist friends--in short, images and objects that represent her numerous life changes.

In January, 1994, after the Northridge earthquake shook Southern California, Wayne added North-ridge to a series of paintings that address planetary and cosmic movement. Cystalline layers of metallic pigment appear to crack in a central fissure, opening above a black void. "The sumptuous surface shifts between jewellike luxury and evocation of disaster. Reflecting Wayne's continuing interests in the paradox of the local or micro as the universal or macro, Northridge coalesces much of the artist's intellectual history.

Most recently is the Knock Out series of lithographs. Near Miss [1996] combines the image of a gas areola the artist remembers seeing on the cart of a popcorn and waffle man who sold his wares on the streets of Chicago in her childhood, with symbols drawn from early explanations of how atomic bombs work. Also included are depictions of contemporary genetic experiments on mice. Scientists at Johns Hopkins found that male mice lacking the gene to make nitric oxide began to kill their male cage mates and repeatedly rape the females. They had removed the gene during research into how the brain functions during strokes. In the process they discovered an intriguing clue to criminal behavior. Wayne finds such paradox a fitting theme for her art. Now in her eighties, she continues to establish unexpected connections of intellectual complexity to poetic images of radiant beauty.

[Concurrent with the LACMA retrospective will be a separate exhibition of Wayne's work dating from the 1940s to the present at Leslie Sacks Fine Art that emphasizes the artist's astronomical, cosmological and astrophysical interests. We are reminded that dating back to World War II Wayne worked as a production illustrator in aeronautical manufacturing.--Ed.]


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