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June Wayne dies at 93; led revival of fine-art print making

June Wayne founded the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles in the 1960s, where leading artists collaborated with professional printers to create high-quality prints. She was also a prolific artist in her own right.

August 25, 2011|By Mary Rourke, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • June Wayne in the courtyard of her Los Angeles home in 2008.
June Wayne in the courtyard of her Los Angeles home in 2008. (Los Angeles Times )

June Wayne, who helped pioneer a revival of fine-art print making in the 1960s when she founded the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, has died. She was 93.

An accomplished artist in her own right, Wayne died Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles after a long illness, according to her assistant, Larry Workman.

Wayne gained an international reputation starting in 1960 when she began to invite leading artists to collaborate with professional printers at Tamarind and create artist's prints.

Painters including Richard Diebenkorn, Sam Francis and Rufino Tamayo, and sculptor Louise Nevelson were among the first artists to work with the printers at Tamarind.

"When June got started, the attitude was 'real artists don't make prints,' " Marjorie Devon, director of the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque that continues the work Wayne began, said in a 2006 interview with The Times. "It's a testimony to her persuasiveness that she got top artists interested."

Wayne recalled those early years in a 1990 essay. "In my mind, lithography has been linked to the great white whooping crane which, like lithography, was on the verge of extinction when the Tamarind Workshop came into being," she wrote.

"The artist-lithographers, like the cranes, needed a protected environment and a concerned public so that, once rescued from extinction they could make a go of it on their own."

More than bringing artists and artisan-printers together, Wayne published a steady supply of information about the technical processes being developed at the workshop.

The basic method for making a lithograph is to draw a design on a stone or metal surface, using a greasy substance. When water and ink are applied, the greasy parts absorb the ink and repel the water. Nuances and variations in the basic technique make the difference. Traditionally, master printers were like famous chefs who refused to share their recipes. "June wanted nothing kept secret," Devon said.

While her reputation was based on her creative work at Tamarind, Wayne was also a prolific painter and lithographer who used science, social issues and personal history as themes. Self-taught, and a self-made success, she began early in her career to lobby for government sponsorship of the arts and artistic freedom from government censorship.

"Wayne's uniqueness lies precisely in her departures," then-Times art critic William Wilson wrote in 1998. "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."

But she never reached the prominence some said she deserved. Experts offered several reasons for her limited recognition.

"She has not fallen into any of the art movements that have had such publicity," Los Angeles County Museum of Art curator Victor Carlson said when a retrospective of Wayne's work opened in L.A. in 1998. He mentioned Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting. "None of those brackets explain her," he said. "I think that a lot of critics have not known what to make of her."

Carlson also said Wayne, by devoting more than 10 years to Tamarind, slowed her progress as an artist. In her maturity, she "had not achieved her full potential," he said.

Wayne's unusual taste in subject matter led to paintings, lithographs and tapestries about DNA structure, atomic fission and organic chemistry. Her 1965 lithograph "At Last a Thousand" was inspired by lemmings known for their attempts at mass migration by way of crossing Arctic waters. In the process thousands of lemmings drown.

The lithograph shows small creatures in chaos, many of them falling off ledges into an abyss. The aerial perspective of the work recalls a satellite image of a disaster area. The work is "the landscape of a cataclysmic galaxy," art historian Arlene Raven wrote in a catalog essay for the Wayne retrospective.

Many of Wayne's ideas for art came out of her daily life in Los Angeles. An early painting, "The Tunnel" (1949), was inspired by her drives through the 2nd Street tunnel downtown. The painting suggests movement through time and space and Wayne's interest in optics.

Another work, "Northridge" (1994), was inspired by the earthquake centered there. Luminous pigment in the painting appears to crack and expose a black void.

Some of Wayne's most admired pieces come from "The Dorothy Series," a tribute to her mother, Dorothy Kline. In 20 lithographs from the 1970s, Wayne used photos and artifacts for an artistic biography.

Her mother was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States as a child. She married but divorced her husband barely one year later. To support herself and her daughter, she sold corsets to Midwest department stores. Wayne used photos, a report card, and marriage and divorce documents in the series.

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