Monday, March 22, 2010

Record 1974/1975 by June Leaf

In November of 1974 to January 1975 June Leaf kept a sketchbook of her time in Mabou Mines, Nova Scotia where she lived with her husband, Robert Frank. Steidl has just released a facsimile called Record 1974/1975.

Record starts with Leaf questioning her thoughts and ideas - trying to find the 'stimulation' to proceed. She writes: "Let me start with the series of the woman in the lifeboat. That is the oldest of the ideas. It is also the most faint to me. Perhaps it is already abandoned. I will therefore recount it here...I recalled that in my last series I had become interested in the shape of a knot." For several pages after she sketches a seagull figure whose eye is a knot in string and as the drawings get more frantic and impulsive she declares: "I've come to a dead stop. Should make a sculpture - don't want to! Should play the fiddle - don't want to! Should take a walk - too cold! Where's the inspiration?"

What I find powerful about Record is it is a diaristic outpouring of thoughts, creative bursts and frustrations. One almost feels embarrassed to be witness to these inner states, dreams and confessions. Working in pencil, ink and watercolor the page to page dynamic is jarring. One is splashed brightly with uplifting color while the next is covered with a violent looking scribble impossible to decipher. Thrown into the mix, Robert appears both as a muse and a dark figure, absent and mourning the death of his daughter Andrea who died in a plane crash that same winter.

Throughout Record Leaf's psychological state seems put to paper. One drawing over which she has written "first demon?" starts a fit of violent pages which the pressure from her pencil varies, making deep rich lines over softer squiggles and finally ending with the figure of a man whose mouth is gushing lines. Leaf notes the lines could be either flames or rolls of paper. A few pages further, another figure is made out in crude rendering over which she writes in a childlike hand "Some demon is responsible for all this."

Towards the end of Record her confessional writing turns back to Robert and living in Mabou. In it she writes of the pain of defeat she experiences and the final understanding that, "we can not really live here. I tried, but like the majority of people here, I tread on ground which is not solid. Yes, I would be a fool to stay...Nothing can grow here. The Mabou Coal Mines are finished. Robert will never understand...He wants to be a man alone on a hill looking at the ocean - it is his picture in his mind that he wants to live. This place is no longer a picture to me. It is a graveyard, only good for starved city souls and eyes."

This dark passage of soul-baring is followed by a small drawing on the last page of a peaceful looking landscape drawn in black ink and captioned with the hopeful passage "Sun falls across this page." The drawing is dated November 24th - two days before her first entry in the sketchbook. The knot was still being examined then, perhaps the hope of unraveling it was still a possibility.