June Leaf

Terry Dintenfass Gallery

June Leaf is basically a Chicago artist. This is not to say that she works out of Chicago, for in the late ’50s she left there for New York. Many of the Second City’s more prominent talents have sought more open pastures, among them Oldenburg, Indiana, Chamberlain, Golub, and Westermann. But since the time of her departure Leaf never completely sloughed off Chicago’s provincialism—Golub’s expressionism, Albright’s magic realism, and Rosofsky’s grotesque imagery still inform her work. Ironically, her main influence, and theirs for that matter, came from trends in past European art rather than from a regionalistic style drawing upon indigenous midwestern sources. Additionally, it is a curious fact that Chicago artists have, in large part, ignored current art, preferring to make statements which in their proud ignorance they take to be highly personal and individualized—but which are really derivative.

June Leaf’s recent show comes as a somewhat expected change. She leaves her dioramic boxes and stuffed Grooms-like figures for autobiographical statements that read with the immediacy embodied in the execution itself. The paint is sloppily applied to ripped, wrinkled, and stained paper. Taken together the drawings present disparate clues that infer a complex iconography, one less refined than her expressionistic style. Subjects range from portraits of scientists and the photographer Robert Frank, to decrepit creatures escaping the pernicious exploding contraptions of mad scientists. In Scientist II she crudely printed the words “To create life out of life!! that’s what I want to do!!” At first these appear as the intellectual credo of the artist herself, but they apply as well to the situation proposed in the drawing—the mad scientist’s thoughts hovering above his head as in a fanciful cartoon. Franz Schulze, the author of Fantastic Images: Chicago Art Since 1945, referred to her work as “phantasmagoric expressionism,” a term easily applicable to much of Chicago’s still active pseudo-Surrealistic school.

Francis Naumann