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June Leaf

 (born 1929)
June Leaf is active/lives in New York, Nova Scotia, Illinois / Canada.  June Leaf is known for abstract figure, modernist kinetic sculpture.

June Leaf

Biography from the Archives of askART

Painter-sculptor June Leaf was born in 1929 in Chicago, Illinois, where she studied at the New Bauhaus, Institute of Design, Chicago, Illinois, 1947-1948.  She received her B.A. degree in Art Education from Roosevelt University, Chicago, in 1954, and an M.A. in Art Education from the Institute of Design. She also studied in Paris, France.

She has lived for the past thirty years in New York City and Mabou, Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada, with her husband, photographer Robert Frank (they sometimes collaborate, with Leaf painting and drawing on his photographs).  She has several times been a visiting artist at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

Leaf's wood and welded sculptures such as Centaur Woman and Figure on a Hoist, some with movable parts, may suggest childhood toys but comment, like her paintings, on feminist* issues and the pressures of life and society. Pregnant with Two Gentlemen, a figurative* painting, depicts a pregnant woman flanked by two standing male figures.

Her work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, also in Chicago; National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Madison Art Center, Wisconsin; and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Leaf exhibited in Canada in 2001 at the Wynick/Tuck Gallery in Toronto, and the Art Gallery of Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

She had her first solo exhibition in 1948 in Chicago.  Some university and museum exhibitions in which Leaf participated in the 1970, include "Torment," in 1970 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; "Drawings by Contemporary American Artists," 1974, the Cranbrook Academy Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; "Contemporary Drawings," 1975, Boston University, Massachusetts; and "A Retrospective Exhibition," 1978, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Leaf exhibited in 1981 in a show at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, "Alternative Realities in Contemporary American Photography."

People involved in the arts may recall Richard Avedon's striking 1975 portrait of Leaf with her arms wrapped around herself, the drained expression in her face and pose of an aging artist, burning-out from the trials and experience of being an artist.

June Leaf is listed in 1986 in the 17th edition of Who's Who in American Art, published by the R.R. Bowker Company.

June Leaf's awards and honors include:

Honorary Degree, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Hallifax, 1996
Alumni Award, Chicago Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL, 1996
National Endowment for the Arts in painting, 1989
Englehard Award, 1986
Honorary Doctorate, Humane Letters, DePaul University, 1984
Distinguished Artists Awards, Canadian Council, 1984
Canada Council Senior Grant, 1983-85
Lippincott Art Fabricators Sculpture Commission, 1978
Canada Council Grant for Painting, 1978
Fulbright Grant to Paris for painting, 1958-59

June Leaf one-person exhibitions include;

2000 Edward Thorp Gallery, New York, NY
1997 Freedman Gallery, Albright College, Reading, PA, June Leaf: Mining
Edward Thorp Gallery, New York, NY, Recent Paintings and Sculpture
1995 Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL, June Leaf: Prints 1952-1990
Edward Thorp Gallery, New York, NY, Recent Paintings, Drawings and
1991 Virginia Lust Gallery, New York, NY, Works on Paper, 1969-1970.
Washington Project for the Arts, Washington D.C. "A Survey of Painting,
Sculpture and Works on paper,1948-1991; Travelled to:
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
1988 Edward Thorp Gallery, New York, NY
1985 Edward Thorp Gallery, New York, NY
Optica Gallery, Montreal, Canada
College of Cape Breton, Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada
1983 North Dakota Museum of Art, North Forks, ND
1982 Dalhousie Art Gallery, Nova Scotia, Canada
1981 Young-Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL
1978 Young -Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
1976 Terry Dintenfass Gallery, New York, NY
1974 Madison Art Center, Madison WI
1973 Terry Dintenfass Gallery, New York, NY
1972 Gallery Bernard, Greenwich, CT
1970 Alan Frumkin Gallery, Chicago, IL
1969 Reed College, Portland, OR
Society for Contemporary Art, Art Institute of Chicago
1968 Alan Frumkin Gallery, New York, NY
1966 Alan Frumkin Gallery, New York, NY
1951 Momentum Gallery, Chicago, IL
1948 Sam Bordelon Gallery, Chicago, IL

Bibliography of writings on June Leaf:

Enright, Robert, "this to this, this to this: the interconnected world of June Leaf", Border Crossings, Issue No. 67, pp. 12 -26, illus.

Heartney, Eleanor, Review, Art in America, January 1998, p.98, illus.

Fox, Marilyn J., "A Master of Gesture", Reading Eagle, November 9, 1997, p. E3
Youngs, Christopher, June Leaf: Mining Mabo, Freedman Gallery, PA Exhibition

Cotter, Holland, The New York Times, April 25, 1997, Page C23.

Wilkinson, Jeanne, Review, May 1, 1997

Bell, Bowyer, Review, May 1, 1997

Smith, Roberta, The New York Times, April 7, 1995, Page C20.

Naves, Mario, New Art Examiner, September 1995, p.46.

Schwabsky, Barry, ARTFORUM, Summer, 1995, Page 108.

Isenberg, Michael, COVER, May , 1995, Page 51.

Art & Auction, April, 1993, "Let Us Now Praise Artist's Artists", p. 78-79.

Stapen, Nancy. "June Leaf's Emphatically Female Figure Imagery",
The Boston Globe, Dec. 5, 1991.

Yau, John. "Original Desire", ARTS Magazine, November 1991, p. 40-45.

Richard, Paul. "June Leaf's Epiphanies & Other Delights", Washington Post,
April 14, 1991, P. G1

Grimes, Nancy. "Face Off", Artnews, March 1990, p. 188

Gibson Garvey, Susan. "Head and Heart: A Celebration of June Leaf",
ARTS Atlantic 34, Spring/Summer 1989, pp. 40-44

Berlind, Robert. "June Leaf at Edward Thorp," Art in America, October
1988, pp. 195-6

Yau, John. "June Leaf," Artforum, September 1988, pp. 137-8.

Schwabsky, Barry, "RL Kaplan/Gregory Crane/June Leaf," Arts,
September 1985, p. 37.

Jules and Nancy Heller, North American Women Artists of the 20th Century

* For references for these terms and others, see AskART Glossary

Biography from the Archives of askART
"June Leaf Paintings & Sculpture" by John You.  The Brooklyn Rail, April 2008

Has anyone ever thought about the fact that June Leaf helped pave the way for a generation of women artists, including Kiki Smith and Daisy Youngblood, among others, and has never received an ounce of acknowledgment for it? These days you would think that the only woman artist over seventy-five is Louise Bourgeois. And yet, even if Leaf didn't pave anyone's way, and was in fact a completely isolated figure, as she has been called by some observers, her work—she paints, draws, and makes sculptures—demands far more attention than it has received. Perhaps the neglect is because she is a painter. Perhaps it is because her work doesn't fit into any the narratives routinely used to prop up far less interesting artists (like the ones that validate Jeff Koons instead of tagging him as a dumbed-down version of Claes Oldenburg and James Rosenquist). Perhaps it is because critics think her subject matter isn't hip enough, cool enough, obvious enough, or predigested enough. Or finally, perhaps it is because she is one of the only painters to take the sketchiness we associate with French painting, its roots in Impressionism and culmination in Pierre Bonnard, and make it gritty and undomesticated.

Only an artist of real imagination and verve could have done what she has done, which is synthesize the whimsy of Fragonard with the poignant bluntness of primitive art, and do so in a way that is neither nostalgic or a form of pastiche. In her recent exhibition, which consists of paintings of very different sizes as well as constructions involving a piece of fabric stretched between gears and handles, implying an endless, moving screen, and a number of figurative sculptures, including Man as Gutter Spout (2007), in which whimsy and wretchedness embrace as tightly as lovers spending their last night together. It is this embrace of opposites that nimates her work, as well as elevates it to a realm far more worthy of poetry (connotation) than criticism (denotation). Man as Gutter Spout is a little more than a foot tall, made of hammered sections of tin, and with the gutter spout, his penis, sticking straight out. With arms pointing in opposite directions, and head tilted slightly up, he looks as if he is about to jump from his narrow perch (is he headed for water or for solid ground?).

For years, Leaf, who developed an allergic reaction to oil paint, has been using acrylic in ways that are nothing short of astonishing. She is able to imbue her paintings with an airy transparency, at once wet and full of light, that serves her purposes: to evoke an empty, primal landscape of grass, sand, and sky that is reminiscent of the Nova Scotia countryside where she and her husband, Robert Frank, spend a considerable amount of time. Leaf's bleak but not necessarily abject landscape is the opposite of Fragonard's parks and gardens. Her paintings tend to be of a single, naked figure, who is often in a state that is simultaneously joyous and tormented. In the painting Hanging Figure (2006), a naked red man is hanging just above the ground, a rope tied around his wrist. There is no indication of who or what has put him in this predicament. This deliberate absence of information, of what preceded or what will follow, endows the situation with a feeling of permanence. At the same time, the pose suggests that the man isn't completely ill-at-ease, that in fact he may be dancing or trying to gambol across the field.

In Landscape with Hanging Figure (2006-2007), a naked man is seen from a distance, the rope seemingly draped around his chest. Is he being hoisted in the air, about to be received by the elements? Or is he being lowered to the ground? The man is turned away from us, and one leg is in front of the other, as if he is running. Is he running from us? And if so, what threat do we represent? Again, the artist offers no clue to the outcome of what we are looking at.

It is extremely difficult to work in an allegorical vein and not descend into obviousness. The whimsy that Leaf is able to meld with her otherwise disturbing predicaments give her work an emotional edge and poignancy that is exceedingly rare in contemporary art. The most ordinary event—Man Turning Out a Light (1989), a mixed media construction—becomes painful in its evocation of finality. In Green Scroll with Figures (2008), Leaf depicts figures on or near a tightrope, which she stretches between two cylindrical posts via gears and handles, suggesting that they will stay suspended forever. Time's winged chariot isn't hurrying near; it's carrying us toward our destination.

One senses that Leaf recognizes that fancifulness is a necessary and even practical antidote to the worry that routinely envelops us. At the same time, I had the nagging feeling that the hanging figures might have had their origins in something all too real and now largely unspoken of, what happened at Abu Ghraib. One of the strengths of Leaf's work is her ability to lead us to such a disturbing place without following any of the proscribed or institutionalized routes. This is not an artist who finds contentment in pointing the finger at others, because that's too easy and self-satisfied. Leaf isn't trying to prove herself exemplary, which is a posture after all. She knows that we are all hanging by our wrists, and that the lucky ones will be let down gently.


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About  June Leaf

Born:  1929 - Chicago, Illinois
Known for:  abstract figure, modernist kinetic sculpture