Abstract painter June Harwood, whose crisp, geometric compositions made her a key member of the West Coast “Hard Edge” movement, passed away earlier this month at her Studio City home at the age of 81. Her death was confirmed in an email from her gallery, Louis Stern Fine Arts, where an already-planned exhibition of her work will open on Thursday.
Harwood’s early paintings consisted of rigid, flat planes of color and interlocking forms – pure abstraction with no representational content. She often painted with acrylics (then uncommon for an artist), and used tape to define the edges of her shapes. “My paint application was uniform, that is to say that no brush strokes were evident, creating impeccable, flat surfaces. Thus there would be no distraction from the intent, which was to create an interplay of ‘colorforms.’ Jules (Langsner) used this term to mean that color and form are one,” she said in a 2011 interview on Geoform.net.
Born in Middletown, NY, Harwood moved to California in the mid-1950s, shortly after graduating from Syracuse University. In Los Angeles, she connected with a small group of like-minded painters that included Lorser Feitselson, his wife June Lundeberg, John McLaughlin, Karl Benjamin, and Frederick Hammersley. In 1959, Harwood’s future husband Jules Langsner curated what is considered the first hard edge show, Four Abstract Classicists at LACMA, that featured Feitselson, McLaughlin, Benjamin, and Hammersley. While Harwood was absent from this show, she was part of another seminal hard edge exhibition also curated by Langsner, California Hard-Edge Painting, held in Balboa, CA in 1964.
Her work evolved to include curves, loops, and networks of lines that flirted with Op-Art, sometimes painted with metallic paint to accentuate the play of light on the surface of the canvas. In the 70s, her large, discreet forms began to break apart, as she became interested in kinetics and motion. In the 90s and 2000s, her edges softened and her brushwork became more painterly in works that recalled simple landscapes. Recently, she had returned to the hard-edged forms that she began exploring sixty years ago.
Throughout her long career, similar aesthetic concerns ran through all her work. “First instilled in me long ago as an undergraduate at Syracuse University, formal, classical, structural composition has remained the consistent theme in my painting throughout these many years,” she told Geoform.net. “Much of my painting develops intuitively and sometimes accidentally or serendipitously. But in all cases, the result should be to make all of the pieces fit, that there should be a ‘sense of rightness’ about the total configuration.”
June Harwood – Splinter, Divide and Flow: Works from 1967-1977 opens on Thursday, January 22, 5-8pm, with a tribute to the artist at 7pm, at Louis Stern Fine Arts, 9002 Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood.