An Interview with Artist June Harwood ( 1933-2015 )

January, 2011

 JK: In 1972 you changed teaching jobs.

JH: Yes, I started teaching at Los Angeles Valley College where I stayed until I retired in 1994.

JK: Your next large series of work were the Jigsaw paintings.

Drums
Drums, acrylic on canvas, 107 x 107 cm (42 x 42 in), 1975

JH: In this series I returned to making small collages. I cut some of the shapes that were originally connected, shifted them, and replaced them in slightly skewed positions.

Ripples
Ripples, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 102 cm (60 x 40 in), 1975

This series recalled the Colorforms, but were more complex.

Viper
Viper, acrylic on canvas, 102 x 152 cm (40 x 60 in), 1975

Once again what appears to be background and foreground can switch back and forth.

Iris  Teeth
Iris, acrylic on canvas,
142 x 10 cm (56 x 40 in), 1975
Teeth, acrylic on canvas,
152 x 102 cm(60 x 40 in), 1975

In the next group of paintings I was again exploring kinetics, the idea of movement.

Vis Vim
Vis Vim, acrylic on canvas, 107 x 107 cm (42 x 42 in), 1977

I filled a sheet of paper with pencil rubbings, and then used an eraser as a drawing instrument, breaking up areas into discrete shapes.

Verdant
Verdant acrylic on canvas, 122 x 122 cm (48 x 48 in), 1978

This series followed the idea of exploring movement I had in Vis Vim, but I also used a compositional idea from an earlier painting, Bulls Eye, leaving large empty spaces.

Azure
Azure, acrylic on canvas, 122 x 122 cm (48 x 48 in), 1978

In the next few works, collages were carefully structured from previously painted brushstrokes and drips and splashes of paint, now reassembled in an organized fashion. From the collage I transferred each part to the canvas and painted it accordingly.

Berlin
Berlin, acrylic on canvas, 137 x 137 cm (54 x 54 in), 1981

This group has a three-dimensional look as opposed to the Colorforms, which were meant to be just the opposite.

Grateful
Grateful, acrylic on canvas, 137 x 137 cm (54 x 54 in), 1981

Berlin, Grateful, Pink and Styx were all painted from paper collages whereby each color was cut and pasted. The image of the finished collage was drawn on canvas and painted accordingly. The only addition to these paintings that may not have been in the collages is an occasional line.

 PinkStyx
Pink, acrylic on canvas, 137 x 137 cm (54 x 54 in), 1981Styx, acrylic on canvas, 137 x 137 cm (54 x 54 in), 1981

JK: Next you made a series of small constructions.

JH: The constructions were made of Luan and the parts glued together. My original idea was to push the edges beyond the rectangular confines natural to the paintings. I discarded the idea after a period of time because the results were far too arbitrary. In other words, the various pieces could have been rearranged making little or no difference to the composition. I also found that I lacked the control and was uncomfortable with the 3-dimensional medium.

Run, mixed media construction,
20 x 23 x 2.5 cm (8 x 9 x 1 in), 1985
Stepping, mixed media construction,
23 x 30 x 2.5 cm (9 x 12 x 1 in), 1984

JK: After the constructions, you returned to paintings, this time quite painterly even though there are clear structural areas or divisions.

JH: I did four paintings the size of Columbus on Fire where I was getting away from flat surfaces to something more painterly.

Columbus on Fire
Columbus on Fire, acrylic on canvas, 157 x 229 cm (62 x 90 in), 1989

Still the idea is that it’s about form, that—like all my paintings—classical composition is always the primary concern. There’s a lot of visible brushwork, yet the individual shapes and shapes within shapes themselves are very delineated.

Iron Mile was based on a collage using paper ripped from magazines. There’s a transition taking place here toward landscape.

Iron Mile
Iron Mile, acrylic on canvas, 137 x 137 cm (54 x 54 in), 1990

Quake suggests to me an aerial view, as if looking out the window of a plane where you don’t see the horizon as a straight line going east to west. I put tape on parts of the canvas, developed painterly areas over it, then removed the tape to reveal the white areas and some of the previous paint underneath.

Quake
Quake, acrylic on canvas, 137 x 137 cm (54 x 54 in), 1992

In Lateral Moon, once again areas are clearly delineated despite the visible brushwork.

Lateral Moon
Lateral Moon, acrylic on canvas, 132 x 168 cm (52 x 66 in), 1993

In Twin Poplars you can see that I was dragging various tools through the paint.

Twin Poplars
Twin Poplars, acrylic on canvas, 79 x 79 cm (31 x 31 in), 1996

JK: In Floe, evidence of varied brushwork and the use of tools contrasts with the straight edges created once again through the use of tape.

Floe
Floe, acrylic on canvas, 79 x 79 cm (31 x 31 in), 1996

Paintings like R.F.D. approach more traditional, if abstracted, landscape.

JH: My interest in these landscapes was to find the most “ordinary” aspects of nature as opposed to that which was “spectacular.”

RFD
R.F.D., acrylic on canvas, 152 x 152 cm (60 x 60 in), 2003

I think Last Exit involves a rather sophisticated combination of hard edge and landscape concerns, the altering and flickering views of the landscape seen through windows of a moving car.

Last Exit
Last Exit, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 152 cm (60 x 60 in), 2006

Delphic is quite a severe painting in which different areas are sharply delineated. The white area along the bottom has a sliver shape, recalling the early Sliver Series.

Delphic
Delphic, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 152 cm (60 x 60 in), 2006

JK: Sun Clouds presents similar, if less severe, contrasts of painterly and uninflected areas.

JH: This painting in part was something of a happy accident. I applied tape, forgot about it, and the two linear areas were created when I removed it. I was pleased with the effect and left it.

Sun Clouds
Sun Clouds, acrylic on canvas,
137 x 102 cm (54 x 40 in), 2007

JK: In Amethyst, you’re deliberately introducing linear areas that reinforce the structural qualities of the painting.

JH: And, as in the following painting, Swing, the repetition of the shapes and/or lines creates a movement as you might imagine in a child’s swing.

Amethyst
Amethyst, acrylic on canvas, 102 x 127 cm (40 x 50 in), 2007

With Swing, I’m focused on kenetics again and back to a strictly hard-edge approach.

Swing
Swing, acrylic on canvas, 122 x 122 cm (48 x 48 in), 2007

JK: It’s interesting to me that although you use straight-edged geometric shapes, they rarely have edges that are true verticals or horizontals.

Tine
Tine, acrylic on canvas, 137 x 137 cm (54 x 54 in), 2007

JH: I guess that’s too static. I prefer diagonals, which give more of a feeling of excitement or movement.

Linden
Linden, acrylic on canvas, 137 x 122 cm (54 x 48 in), 2008

JK: And you’ve returned to using curved shapes, though here they are arcs, incomplete loops.

Lotus
Lotus, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 122 cm (36 x 48 in), 2008

JH: Yes. And in Wicket, you can see repetition with variation, here in the large grey and yellow shapes.

Wicket
Wicket, acrylic on canvas, 137 x 137 cm (54 x 54 in), 2009

JK: In your Colorform series, large shapes tended to alternately read as foreground and background. This reversing of positions seems to occur in Magnet as well.

JH: Yes, although here, there are several reversals going on. For example, the blue shape on the left appears to be behind the brown bar, yet it reads as foreground against the central brown area which now recedes.

Magnet
Magnet, acrylic on canvas, 107 x 107 cm (42 x 42 in), 2009

JK: In your recent geometric work, you’ve returned to shapes and shape relations you favored earlier in your career, but now the compositions appear to be more complex.

Cadence Blue Grey Brown
Cadence Blue Grey Brown, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 122 cm (36 x 48 in), 2010

JH: I am reminded of a quotation of psychoanalyst, Otto Rank:

Blocks
Blocks, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 107 cm (36 x 42 in), 2009

“The first work of the productive individual …

Cadence Red
Cadence Red, acrylic on canvas, 107 x 107 cm ( 42 x 42 in), 2010

remains the chief work, since all the other works are partly the repeated expression of this primal creation.”

June Harwood
June Harwood in her Studio City, California studio

More information about June Harwood at juneharwood.com

Interview images and text copyright©2011 Julie Karabenick and June Harwood. All Rights Reserved.

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All text and artwork reproduced by permission of the artists.

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