Published by Steidl/Whitney Museum of American Art. Text by Carter E. Foster, Clara Rojas-Sebesta. Photographs by Alice Attie.
June Leaf paints in the fantastical tradition of Bosch, Goya and the Surrealists
June Leaf’s extraordinary body of work--one built over nearly seven decades--belongs within a long tradition of visionary figures, from William Blake and Francisco Goya to James Ensor and Odilon Redon. Like these innovative predecessors, and incorporating elements of both Expressionism and Surrealism, Leaf infuses representational imagery with an intense subjectivity and personal symbolist vision. She does so through an extraordinary approach to and facility with materials, often combining mediums and matter in unorthodox ways.
Leaf’s exhibition at the Whitney and this accompanying comprehensive publication include drawings from every decade of her career, as well as a selection of sculptures and paintings, in order to elucidate the migration and cross-referencing of motifs and techniques from one medium to the other. In an immersive installation, the viewer perceives how the artist’s studio space intersects with her extraordinarily rich imagination and deeply personal, invented world in which fiction and reality indistinguishably merge.
June Leaf was born in Chicago in 1929. She began her artistic career in the 1940s, studying at the Chicago Art Institute and the New Bauhaus Institute of Design. In 1958, Leaf was awarded a Fulbright to study art in Paris. In 1960, she moved to New York. Her drawings, paintings and sculptures have been widely collected and are in many museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Chicago Art Institute and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Leaf has received two honorary doctoral degrees, one from DePaul University in Chicago and one from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Canada.
This book is a facsimile of June Leaf's sketchbook from the winter of 1974 and 1975, spent in Mabou Coal Mines, Nova Scotia. She has lived here since 1969 with her husband, Swiss-American photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank. The book is above all a working document of Leaf's thoughts. Drawing is her primary medium, an approach explained in her first written entry of 26 November, 1974: "I don't usually like to write because I am more satisfied by an action." Her sketches are exploratory, inquisitive, incomplete: for example, she refines a motif as simple as a knot over days and weeks, drawing it in different ways until it becomes no more than a detail in a larger, more complex picture. Leaf is not afraid to express the difficulty of the creative process, her frustration as well as her progress: "I've come to a dead stop. Should make a sculpture--don't want to! Should play the fiddle--don't want to! Should take a walk--too cold. Where's the inspiration?" Amidst such uncertainty Leaf's husband remains a constant source of inspiration: representations of Frank are scattered throughout the book, from its opening pages to the last.
Record is a facsimile of June Leaf's sketchbook from the winters of 1974 and 1975, spent in Mabou Coal Mines, Nova Scotia,where she has lived since 1969 with her husband, Robert Frank. Leaf's sketches are exploratory: she refines a motif as simple as, say, a knot, over days and weeks, until it becomes one detail in a more complex picture. Record candidly expresses the frustrations of the creative process.