June Harwood, 1984,
photo by Douglas Rosa,
June Beatrice Harwood was born in Middletown, New York, on June 16, 1933, the daughter of a prominent physician. She had a difficult childhood following the death of her beloved mother. Harwood and her sister were sent to live with aunts until her father remarried, to a woman who showed little love for her stepdaughters.
As a young woman, Harwood earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Syracuse University before moving to Los Angeles. In 1958, she earned a Master of Arts degree from Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences, now called Cal State University, Los Angeles, and a Life Diploma in Secondary Education in Art in 1964. She taught art at Hollywood High School, and she was a member of the Los Angeles Art Association, where she likely met painter Lorser Feitelson, whom she held in high regard.*
She met art critic Jules Langsner when he was organizing a second exhibition on Hard-Edge painting, a term he originated. His first exhibition, Four Abstract Classicists, held in 1959, was considered groundbreaking. He included Harwood's work in the second show, California Hard-Edge Painting, which was shown at the Pavilion Gallery, Balboa, California, in 1964. She became close friends with another artist included in the exhibition, Helen Lundeberg. The show was Harwood's breakout exhibition, and it established her as a noteworthy abstract artist.
While Langsner was organizing the exhibition, he and Harwood became romantically involved. For Harwood it was an exciting time, as Langsner had many art world connections, including close associations with Sam Francis and Henry Seldis, both of whom became Harwood's close friends, as well, and Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Ruben Kadish, and William Turnbull, among others. Langsner and Harwood married in Rome, Italy, in 1965 and honeymooned with Man Ray in Paris. They returned to California and lived together in the Whitley Heights area of Hollywood until Langsner's sudden death two years later on September 29th, 1967, at age 56.
Harwood was given a one-person exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, which opened on October 3, 1967, only days after Langsner's death. In her grief, she did not attend the opening of the exhibition. Later, she donated four works to the museum in Langsner's memory. All were paintings done by Hard-Edge artists whom they both knew well, one by John McLaughlin, one by Frederick Hammersley and two by Lorser Feitelson.
*She began teaching art by 1959, likely on a provisional credential.
Harwood began teaching drawing and painting at Los Angeles Valley College in the early 1970s, where later she chaired the Art Department. She retired from the college in 1993.
A year later, in 1994, her house/studio, built of adobe in 1922, was badly damaged by the Northridge earthquake. It was tagged "orange" as uninhabitable. Most of her paintings, done over many years, were stored in the house or cabinets adjacent to the house. She was resigned to their being destroyed when the house was scheduled for demolition. At the insistence of her friend, Dennis Reed (now a trustee), and with the assistance of several neighbors, the paintings were moved to a safe location. Most of the works currently held by the Trust were among this group of paintings.
After the demolition, a new house/studio was built on the same site at 4223 St. Clair Avenue, Studio City, California.
Harwood exhibited with many galleries over the years, including the Hollis Gallery, San Francisco, Molly Barnes Gallery, Los Angeles, Rex Evans Gallery, Los Angeles, David Stuart Galleries, Los Angeles, Tobey C. Moss Gallery, Los Angeles, and Louie Stern Fine Arts, Los Angeles, among others.
She began collecting African masks when she exhibited with David Stuart, who sold ethnic pieces as well as contemporary art. Her friendship with painter Emerson Woelffer, who was a skilled and adamant collector of ethnic art, influenced her further in that direction. She admired the visual power and simple beauty of such artifacts.
Harwood's work was included in several exhibitions in the Art Gallery at Los Angeles Valley College, including a one-person show in 1991. Broader interest in her work was revived by the exhibition, Hard-Edge Painting Revised: 1959-1969, at NoHo Modern Gallery in North Holllywood, California, in 2003. The last institutional showing of her work before her death was The Los Angeles School exhibition, curated by Dave Hickey, at the Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design in 2006.
Harwood died January 4, 2015, at the age of 81, at her home in Studio City, California.
Zaire Basonge Statuette, unknown date, originally procured by the Union Francaise Exports Membre, gifted to June Harwood by Emerson Woelffer, 1991. Donated by June Harwood to the Fowler Museum, UCLA