Kelli Makenna Kuttruff
The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College is showing the work of June Harwood, a pivotal addition to the Los Angeles Hard-Edge movement of abstract art. Harwood’s early works in the 1960s Sliver series earned her a place as a key figure in this movement signified by paintings of intense color and geometric abstraction.
This “June Harwood: Paintings” collection features works from several of Harwood’s series through her time as a painter including Sliver, Colorform, Loop, Jigsaw, and Rock series.
The June Harwood Charitable Trust donated 10 of Harwood’s paintings to become part of Pomona College’s permanent collection.
“We have a female artist that was amazing but just never got the recognition at that time,” said Maddy Woodward, visitor services coordinator at the Benton. “We’re very happy to now have her as part of our permanent collection.”
Harwood’s paintings are organized chronologically and counterclockwise by room.
The bright colors and unique collection containing a wide array of Harwood’s work in one place has been of interest to museum visitors so far, said Christine Spicola, who works security at the Benton.
“I love the brightness and all the colors in here. It’s completely different than our other exhibits,” Spicola said.
One of the first paintings on display in the exhibit is an untitled work of Harwood’s from 1960. This work is a collage of neutral tones overlapping with dashes of bright blue. Harwood was notorious for her clever use of collages and geometric shapes, which is clearly highlighted in this early work of hers. On top of this collage, graphite pencil was used to depict different shapes presented on top of one another. A series of different images such as a dish, a pitcher and a vase were illustrated.
This untitled collage work was the personal favorite of Linda Lavadia, museum guest and recreational figurative artist. She appreciated how Harwood had stayed consistent in her work with abstraction through most of her career.
“Rather than it just becoming a structure of shapes, it has actual objects which makes it more like a still life,” Lavadia said.
Harwood was under-recognized during her lifetime, but this collection offers a unique opportunity for the public to learn about abstract art, and Harwood’s impact on the hard-edge movement.
Each painting offered inspiration, as was true for Miriam Brody, a sophomore computer science major at Pomona Colleges.
“I got inspired to write a little short story just by looking,” Brody said. “It got me inspired to think about the way we feel when we go into museums.”
Another painting from the collection of the “June Harwood Charitable Trust” in the Rock series, was “Earth, Wind and Fire,” 1979.
Harwood completed works for this Rock series from 1977 to 1982 where she was inspired by well-known rock bands. In this series, she used the method of splattering paint on pieces of paper that she cut and combined to make her paintings. She used masking tape to frame her lines and paint strokes.
The “Earth, Wind and Fire” piece was inspired by the name of the popular 70s band who is best known for their famous song, “September.”
It is a vivid and dynamic abstract piece featuring white, bright orange, and a striking shade of blue. The color choice seemed to be intentional, as each color could represent a different element: blue as earth, white as wind, and orange as fire.
Harwood practiced many signature elements throughout her career such as her interest in color, form, and line which comes full circle, said Rebecca McGrew, senior curator of the June Harwood exhibition.
A notable painting on display to McGrew was an untitled work in the loop series from 1966. The work is vibrant and bright orange with meticulously placed teal loops though the center.
“I feel like that painting is just so vibrant and really pops, it’s one of my favorites,” McGrew said.
McGrew was a Pomona College alumna, and curator at Pomona College for 27 years with her last day on June 2nd. It was her vision as curator to support under-recognized artists such as June Harwood, and to present her as a key figure of the 20th century art scene.
“I’m really proud of my legacy working with a lot of artists, June being one of them,” McGrew said, “I’m proud to have provided a venue for under-recognized artists.”
The Harwood exhibition runs through Jan. 7, 2024.
Kelli Kuttruff can be reached at: email@example.com.