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June Wayne

American
(1918–2011)

The Elements
1951

Oil and wax on canvas
30.25 x 93 x 2 in.
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation
2016.5

June Wayne, like many artists in the 1940s and early 1950s, was drawn to surrealism. Wayne, however, explored this influence in a very different way, because her work became inspired by the writings of Franz Kafka. She elaborated on this influence in a later interview: “My images . . . partake of . . .the Kafkaesque world, where nothing is exactly what it seems” (49). She would look at Kafka’s sentences, fascinated that such “an innocent beginning became such an alarming ending when the words were so simple” (49). Therefore, she made her Kafka series paintings layered but also clear. The Elements, which has three rows of abstract figures, is the masterpiece in this group. The figures of the central band seem to dissolve as they progress from left to right. The top image, “which is a magnified grain of sand, leaps in front of the . . . black band . . . turning [it] into a volume” (79) and helping to integrate the three rows. In the central band, as Wayne elucidates, there is “a sign of re with an atomic crystal in the middle. It changes to burned-out cinders. So we have night, day, fire, water, rain, earth, sky . . . the atom bomb . . . and that’s why I call it The Elements” (79).

From the Kafka series Wayne moved on to exceptionally complex black-and-white grid paintings with human figures. But the idea of exploring elements associated with nature and science eventually became the main focus of her art for the rest of her career.

Jay Belloli, Quotes from Robert P. Conway, June Wayne: The Art of Everything: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1936–2006.


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