By Schwabsky, Barry
Artforum International , Vol. 50, No. 7
It's usual, and not without good reason, to praise a contemporary artist's work, or even that of a historical figure, for its currency--for the way it seems to put its viewer in touch with the now. But while 1 mean to praise the "Recent Works" June Leaf has just exhibited, I can't do so on those grounds. Although all but one of the paintings, sculptures, and things-in-between in the exhibition were made in the last two years, they feel distinctly untimely, like scattered finds from an archaeological dig into the strata of a human psyche, where past, present, and eternity mingle playfully yet with unease, always tending toward simultaneity. "The first sculpture I made," Leaf once remarked, "was because I was bringing Vermeer up to date." Born in Chicago in 1929, Leaf is part of a circle of artists from that city who moved on from there early in their careers, and who seem to share this ability to plumb existential issues in mythic time; it would be interesting to see an exhibition that would place Leaf in the company of the slightly elder Leon Golub and Nancy Spero and the slightly younger Irving Petlin. All four exceed the narrow category of Chicago Imagism through an intransigent individuality and cultural affinities of astonishing breadth. Leaf's work might put you in mind of a self-taught "primitive" one minute, a backyard tinkcrer the next, and a Baroque master dabbling in oil sketches after that--actually, she uses acrylic, not oils, but you see what I mean. Yet somehow the naif, the bricolense, and the virtuoso of the brush are always clearly a single protean artist.
There's a strange sense of passage back and forth between exteriority and interiority in these works--between the tips of the artist's fingers and the back of the mind. …