June Wayne’s “Waiting for Newspapers,” oil on canvas, 1936. ©The June Wayne Collection, courtesy of Louis Stern Fine Arts
In the history of California art, the Tamarind Lithography Workshop holds a hallowed place. Tamarind was a professional home for some of the greatest master printers of the latter half of the 20th century and spawned a new era of lithography in America. The workshop’s founder, June Wayne, a fixture in the Los Angeles art scene for more than 60 years until her death at 93 in 2011, is now being celebrated with a new exhibition of her work at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. But the curators want you to know, Wayne was more than just Tamarind.
“The catalog résumé of June Wayne’s work is called ‘June Wayne: The Art of Everything,’ and that’s really a great title, because in her art, she dealt with everything, from a fingerprint to the cosmos,” art historian Betty Ann Brown said. “I think she defies that sound-bite intention that we have.”
For Brown, the chance to curate a show of Wayne’s work was more than just a job; it was an honor. She and Wayne were friends for more than three decades, and, as Brown tells it, Wayne was a professional inspiration. “She totally gives lie to the idea that women’s minds are somehow soft or feminine,” Brown said.
Jay Belloli, co-curator of “June Wayne: Paintings, Prints and Tapestries,” first met Wayne at a dinner party in the 1980s. “The show is really a labor of great respect, and a labor of love.”
Wayne was born in Chicago in 1918 and raised by her mother, Dorothy Alice Kline, after her marriage to Wayne’s father ended. Wayne first started painting as a teenager and by the late 1930s had moved to New York, where she met her husband, George Wayne. While he served as a surgeon in the U.S Air Force, June moved to Los Angeles, and the couple eventually settled there in 1944. Although they divorced in 1960, June kept George’s last name.
She quickly became a fixture in the small Los Angeles art scene. Still working primarily as a painter, she got a case of what can best be described as painter’s block while trying to do a series of paintings of the Second Street tunnel. Frustrated, Wayne destroyed several of her works before a conversation with art critic Jules Langsner convinced her to try working in a different medium.
She took up printmaking, in particular lithography, the medium she would most famously work in. In 1960, with a grant from the Ford Foundation, Wayne launched Tamarind as a place to revive the medium of lithography. The workshop is now housed at the University of New Mexico and continues to produce new work, cementing Wayne’s legacy even now that she’s gone. But Belloli and Brown want to make sure Wayne’s legacy isn’t simply confined to her print work.
“Really, she always thought of herself as a painter, and she started as a painter,” Belloli said. “The last major work she did was a painting,” included in the show.
“The range of her interests, as well as this constant issue of perception and movement and light, are really the touchstones of her work,” Belloli said.
Later in life, Wayne also began to make tapestries. The subject of her work ranges from technology and genetics to religious cults and the deeply personal, like her own mother. In Brown’s opinion, that breadth may not have worked entirely to Wayne’s benefit. “She actually suffered from the fact that there isn’t a singular style,” Brown said. “When I say ‘Andy Warhol,’ you see soup cans. And you cannot reduce her work to a singular thing.”
Wayne may be remembered as much for her presence and her personality as her work. A fixture at dinner parties, she moved in a variety of social circles, including artists, feminists and even rocket scientists. “Just being with her was extraordinary ... because she was so interested and so knowledgeable in many areas,” Belloli said.
Brown pointed out that the show at the Pasadena Museum of California Art isn’t a retrospective. “It couldn’t be a retrospective — that museum is just not big enough to give full representation to all the things she did, so we’re calling it a survey.”
Both curators agree, though, that the show should be considered essential viewing.
“She is one of the iconic figures in the history of this city,” Brown said. “June Wayne always said that art should kiss your eyes. And your eyes will be deeply kissed in a very good way if you go to this exhibition.”
“June Wayne: Paintings, Prints and Tapestries” is on display at Pasadena Museum of California Art until Aug. 31. For more information, go to pmcaonline.org.