June Wayne (March 7, 1918 - August 23, 2011) was born in Chicago. Passionate about the arts, she dropped out of high school at age 15, had her first painting exhibit in the City at 17. At 18 she traveled to Mexico City where she had been invited to exhibit at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Shortly thereafter, she found employment as a painter for the WPA.
By the 1940’s Wayne had moved to California, and found work converting aircraft blueprints to drawings for the war effort. By night she was painting, and becoming an integral part of the California art scene.
In 1948 Wayne met Lynton Kisler who ran a small lithography studio. At the time lithography and printmaking in the US was generally regarded as more suitable for throwaway posters than for serious art. Wayne, however, saw bigger possibilities for the medium, and traveled to Paris to collaborate with master printer Marcel Durassier on a suite of her works inspired by the English poet John Donne.
Wayne’s stay in Europe persuaded her that lithography was a medium with huge potential, which would allow fine artists to create multiples, expanding both the artistic palette and the affordability of quality works.
By 1959, Wayne had convinced the New York based Ford Foundation to underwrite residencies at her Hollywood studio for artists to collaborate with and learn from the master lithographers of Europe, and later the United States. Tamarind Lithography Workshop, named after the street where Wayne’s studio was located, brought over the next 10 years more than 150 artists into this unique environment. Such luminaries as Louise Nevelson, Sam Francis, Richard Diebenkorn, David Hockney, Josef and Annie Albers, Ed Ruscha, Francois Gilot, Rufino Tamayo, Philip Guston, and many others created seminal work there. By her sheer will, charisma, and piercing curiosity and intellect, Wayne changed the world of printmaking and art forever.
By 1970, Wayne, always the experimentalist, was ready to turn over the reins, and arranged for the Tamarind workshop to be transferred to the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque as the Tamarind Institute.
Wayne, now free of the administrative responsibilities of Tamarind, turned her energies back towards her own artwork. The 1000th lithograph produced at Tamarind was held back for her creation. “At Last a Thousand” manifested her growing interest in the workings of the cosmos, showing an atomic explosion in interstellar space.
Returning to Paris, Wayne renewed her friendship with Madeleine Jarry (1917-1982) the eminent and formidable Inspecteur principale du Mobilier national des Gobelins et de Beauvais, an association with roots in French royal tradition dating to the 15th century and supported heavily in their time by Colbert and Louis XIV.
When Jarry suggested that Wayne experiment with the tapestry medium, Wayne immediately recognized its sensuous and tactile nature, and was moved by the possibilities of its large scale. Several of Wayne’s lithographs formed the basis of the twelve tapestries which Wayne created in collaboration between 1970 and 1974 with the master weavers of France. Wayne’s early and close association with Dr. Jonas Salk (whom she introduced to Francois Gilot); the Jet Propulsion Lab; and others prominent persons in the scientific community, was no accident. Wayne had grown increasingly fascinated with DNA, the forces behind tidal waves and other phenomena of nature, including the implications of the splitting of the atom. It was these themes which Wayne would explore in her tapestries and her later paintings.
Unlike artists who dropped off their works to be mass produced in tapestry mills, Wayne spent weeks at a time alongside the master weavers of the great studios of France as they prepared and did their work. She hand selected the yarn, its texture, cut, thickness, and color. Some of the tapestries took a year to weave from the full size cartoons which Wayne insisted be used. When dissatisfied with the result, which happened more than once, Wayne would order the work destroyed. No more than four tapestries, usually fewer, were ever woven from one design.
Wayne’s last major public exhibit, this of her tapestries, and titled “June Wayne’s Narrative Tapestries: DNA, Tidal Waves, and the Cosmos” was held at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2010, curated by Christa Thurman, herself a legend.
Those who were privileged to know Wayne remember her as a fiercely independent individual who in her own words, “Ran on indignation”. While she was known as an activist for womens’ causes, and mentored dozens of women artists and leaders, she would not allow herself to be categorized. “Some of my problems over the years stemmed from my inability to think of myself as any kind of minority, woman, Jew, artist, whatever”, she once said.
As then LA Times art critic William Wilson wrote in 1998, “Wayne’s uniqueness lies in her departures. She offers a fruitful alternative model for the artist. Never allowing a signature style to imprison her, like a creative scientist she investigates her ideals and passions even when they lead her out of the studio. She does more than make superior art in Los Angeles. She helped mold its larger culture."
Text © 2017 mbabramgalleries.
All images © 2017 June Wayne Collection / Robin C. Park.