East City Art Reviews—June Linowitz at Portico Gallery

By Claudia Rousseau, Ph.D. on April 27, 2023

An exhibit of two series of works by area artist June Linowitz is currently on view at Portico Gallery & Studios in Brentwood.  Located in the Gateway Arts District, Portico is managed by resident artist John Paradiso who curated the show.  June Gets Emotional features all but one of Linowitz’s 24 Heads first exhibited in 2017, and Nostalgia, her recent series of fascinating multi-media paintings based on memories captured in photographs from the artist’s childhood.

June Linowitz, Heads (Grouping of four, clockwise from top) Anxiety, 2012, 15 ¾” x 11 ¼” x 5”, polystyrene, plaster, encaustic, wire, wood; Ignorance   2013 12 ½” x 8” x 7” polystyrene, plaster, encaustic, wood, nails; Introspection, 2012, 13 ¼” x 8” x 6 ½”, polystyrene, plaster, encaustic, wood, wire, mirror; Constraint, 2015, 12 ¾” x 7 ¼” x 6 ½”, polystyrene, plaster, wood, beeswax, cheesecloth, crochet thread. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Over her long career, several themes dominate Linowitz’s work, and in the past decade they tend toward the psychological: deeply personal, and often strongly emotive.  The Heads were first inspired by the death of her mother for whom she had been caretaker in her last years.  This loss, though not unexpected, left a feeling of emptiness that needed to be made concrete in order to process it.  She began with a drawing of the face of grief, a cavernous hole in its forehead.

As a student, Linowitz had majored in art, but minored in psychology.  The drawing led her to turn to the psychology books for research into human emotions and how we perceive them in the faces of others.  She discovered that these things are universal—regardless of culture or language, everyone perceives states of mind and emotional status in similar ways.  Soon the drawing became a three-dimensional object, embodying the emotion.  It was not a self-portrait in any sense, but it did objectify the artist’s emotion in a way that stimulated the idea of continuing the series.

The process from which the Heads were begun reveals two important aspects of Linowitz’s art. First, her fundamental interest in the intersection between two and three dimensional art, painting and sculpture.  Second, that she uses media that can best express the concept or feeling she is exploring.  And, since the 1990s she has been extraordinarily inventive with devising ways to achieve her goals.

The heads are first made with extruded polystyrene foam. This material is dense and can be carved like wood.  Using it allowed the artist a great deal of freedom in creating the varied shapes of the Heads, all of which have a flat wooden backing so they hang like relief-sculpture on the wall.  Linowitz also made use of colored encaustic, a wax medium used by the ancient Romans and many contemporary artists, leaves a smooth, low-sheen surface.  As the encaustic would not adhere to the polystyrene, each was first covered with plaster, and then with encaustic accounting for their surface texture. These materials are all durable but lightweight, and the Heads are much lighter in the hand than they appear on the wall.  The pliant character of the media made it possible to obtain extensive variation in the range of emotional expressions they each represent.

June Linowitz, Canandaigua, handmade abaca paper, pulp painting, beeswax, pastel, photo transfer of original drawing, crochet thread, yarn, dyed and shaped canvas, 31 “x 22 ¾ “x 1 ½ “, 2020.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

In the Nostalgia series the artist explores the nature of memory and how it is subject to a kind of entropy—even memories that are of people and places that were dear to us.  Dating mostly from 2020, a year when many of us were turning inward, these works were stimulated by the memories elicited from looking at old photos.  Again, for these, Linowitz invented a unique process involving many steps and varied media.

June Linowitz, Train Station, graphite on paper, 2020.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

The first step is an original drawing on textured paper after the photograph.  Following this was the transfer of the drawing to handmade abaca paper. The backing was made with dyed and shaped cotton canvas, and the work was completed using pulp painting, beeswax, pastel, crochet thread, and other media.  The result is an object that at first looks like a painting in a frame, but the frame is softly folded and envelops the image like an embrace.  It has an antique feeling to it, especially since the transferred image loses clarity and is slightly blurred.  The figures seem to emerge from a mist, a visual metaphor of a memory more affecting than the actual old photograph.  As the artist put it to me:

The image breaks down when transferred onto the waxed abaca paper but that’s partly the point.  Memories break down and what we remember is indistinct and often erroneous, as well as suffused with nostalgia.[1]  

June Linowitz, Train Station, handmade abaca paper, pulp painting, beeswax, pastel, photo transfer of original drawing, crochet thread, yarn, dyed and shaped canvas, 29 ¼ “x 23 ½ “x 1 ½ “, 2020.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Before closing I wanted to point out Linowitz’s interesting handling of space in these images.  In Train Station, the little girl in the center is the artist next to her grandmother. After the first plane of space where they stand, things get somewhat confused.  Where are the suitcases located, the woman apparently standing on the platform, the tracks rising next to her? To further confuse things, the yarn creating the track lines extends out of the image into the frame. (The effect is also present in Canandaigua). This suggests the fogginess of memory and dreams, where space is not as it is in our waking world.

June Gets Emotional, Portico Gallery and Studios, March 25 – May 5, 2023, 3807 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood, MD 20722.  Gallery hours: Saturday, 12-3 PM and by appointment. Contact John Paradiso, 202-487-8458.  www.portico3807.com

[1] Email correspondence with the artist for this article.