Cover Magazine, Autumn 2017 Edition, London

 

Author and Copyright 2017: Denna Jones


"Artist June Wayne’s twelve tapestries woven between 1970 and 1974 were a product of her desire to share narrative, tell compelling stories, and explore new media. Writing for the catalogue accompanying her 2010 solo show at the Art Institute of Chicago, she acknowledged a new generation of contemporary artists had ‘returned to storytelling with a vengeance’, a fact that reinforced and validated her belief that content is always ‘there’ even in abstract and non-objective works. A grande dame of tapestry, a selection of Wayne’s tapestries form her posthumous 2017 exhibition at MB Abram Galleries’ new Los Angeles space.


Wayne seized the invitation to move from lithography to tapestries, a medium that ‘spoke’ to her ‘physically as well as pictorially’. Each tapestry knot or ‘point’ was a ‘module’ not dissimilar to the pores in a lithography stone. Influenced by the Ben-Day dot (a commercial printing process associated with comics and exploited by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein) and Pointillism’s dots of pure colour, she interpreted these as tapestry knots when designing her cartoons. In her 2010 essay, Wayne described clandestine childhood visits to the Art Institute of Chicago where she stood transfixed in front of Georges Seurat’s Pointillism masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte (1884). The overwhelming size of Seurat’s painting in relation to a child doubtlessly influenced Wayne’s eventual attraction to the ‘limitless’ scale of weaving.


Wayne was encouraged to take up tapestry by Madeleine Jarry who later headed the former royal Gobelins tapestry manufactory on behalf of the French Ministry of Culture. Jarry introduced her to Pierre Daquin whose Atelier de Saint Cyr created most of Wayne’s tapestries. Shunning traditional tapestry tropes, Wayne’s themes encompassed the cosmos, DNA, science, optics, and tidal waves. While Wayne freely shared her narrative influences, we are less knowledgeable about how she conceived their dimensional presentation. Wayne’s tapestries appear formally and theatrically ‘staged’ in vertical planes of space where a proscenium ‘window’ frames the action or a tightly raked ‘stage’ confines the action furthest from the viewer to the uppermost register of the tapestry.


Her Magritte-like tapestry Col Noir (Black Chain) is a surrealist stage framed by a blood-red proscenium window where a looped chain of bird-like dots hangs motionless in the sky above an iceberg-like theatrical ‘curtain’. Wayne’s Grande Vague Noir (Large Black Wave) features a Hokusai-like curled wave constrained by a patterned ground inspired by a frottage rubbed from a wooden parquet floor. La Cible (The Target) expresses Wayne’s interest in optics. She described that closing one eye while looking at the central spiral creates a 3D illusion, a sleight of hand that aligns with Seurat’s use of ‘Divisionism’. He grouped colour points to create optical ‘tricks’ in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte, a tool that forces the viewer to blend, shape, and create perception of the work within the mind’s eye.


Three lithographs Wayne designed when she headed the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Hollywood were translated into her initial tapestries, At Last a Thousand, La Cible (The Target), and Cinquieme Vague (The Fifth Wave). Wayne collaborated intimately with her French weaving ateliers, choosing shades and hues, approving yarn selection, and making regular visits to check on the year-long weaving production. Ultimately it was tapestry as an art form rather than a craft or a fibre art that attracted Wayne.


‘Tapestries,’ she said, ‘allowed me to take images that were very much smaller...and expand them [into] a third dimension’, an affirmation that seems to confirm the concepts of size, scale, and illusion were instilled in her during those childhood encounters with Seurat’s Pointillism masterpiece.‘June Wayne (1918-2011)’ at MB Abram Galleries, Los Angeles, 24 August-10 October 2017."

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