Leo Amino's Mobile

Spatial Exploration

At a young age, Amino was employed by a Japanese wood importing company, which spurred his interest in wood. The fledgling artist would spend his free time carving simplified, anthropomorphized forms, similar to Neolithic art, with an exaggerated simplicity honed later as the artist developed his talent. To Amino, the wood grains, surfaces and natural nuances allowed the medium to dictate how the forms would eventually emerge. Nature’s simple, consistent beauty spoke to the artist as he continued his direct-carving and formal approach to sculpture.

In 1938, while traveling in London, Amino encountered the work of Henry Moore. Moore’s use of volume and figuration, with anatomical details softened and abstracted, spoke directly to Amino and the progression of his work; he was profoundly influenced. Amino channeled Moore's simplification and exaggeration of the human body, creating forms simultaneously abstract and figurative.


Henry Moore © Burstein Collection/Corbis

Initially, the Surrealists provided a great deal of influence on his work, and Amino delved into the power of the unconscious mind. He would appropriate figural gestures in his sculptures, coupled with titling that leads the viewer to consider family structure, portraiture and still-life, but the over-abstracted forms were not static nor were they literal. Amino’s use of negative space and fluid motion, with carved, voluminous forms, suspended and animated link him directly to some of Alexander Calder’s early mobiles. As Gregory Gilbert writes, “in creating his suspended forms, Amino might have also been inspired by the Constructivist spatial principles that Alexander Calder has investigated in his mobiles of the thirties; in addition to rejecting mass, the Constructivist artists also denounced the static character of the traditional sculpture, asserting that motion could also be incorporated into sculptural works as a mean of delineating space”

In his oeuvre, Amino's Interlocking forms and organically carved elements have a direct parallel with the work of Isamu Noguchi, an artist whose work Amino had a kinship as they both navigated an Asian American artistic path in the post-war period. While the two artists were developing wholly different bodies of work, there is an innate similarity drawn between the two and their fluid, anthropomorphic forms.


Works by Isamu Noguchi; photo by Rudy Burckhardt

The present lot, one of only a few mobiles and the largest ever created by Amino, reflects an idea of physical form by projecting itself into space beyond the physical borders of the material. Time and space are explored as the sculpture moves and responds to its environment while the elements themselves represent bones or talismans connecting the living with the spirit world.


Emanuel and Linda Wright, Leo Amino, and New York

New York in the early 1950s was fertile ground for a new creative period in America. Writers, artists, actors and musicians all interacted and shared ideas in the East Village.

In the late 1940s, Emanuel Wright had just completed his service as a radio operator for the merchant marines in World War II and he and his wife, Linda settled into life in New York City. Living in Peter Cooper village, they socialized with creative people such as Ben Gazara, Arthur Miller, John Forsyth and Walter Matthau. While attending classes at Cooper Union, Emanuel Wright met Leo Amino becoming lifelong friends. Over the years, the Wrights acquired the most important private collection of Amino artworks, eventually giving three works to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sketch by Leo Amino featuring the present lot from the archives of Emanuel and Linda Wright.

The Wright’s collection of more than fifty works was largely acquired directly from the artist at his Watt Street studio where Amino created art in his kitchen, the limitations of which accounts for the intimate scale of his artistic output at the time. By 1959 the Amino family was splitting their time between New York and New Jersey and the Wrights had decamped the city for the Garden state. The Wrights and the Aminos continued their relationship begun in the city. Amino was an excellent cook and would host the Wrights often at his home in Glen Gardener. If skewers were needed for a barbecue or if a pickle fork was needed for condiments, Amino would carve them and the sculptures were used as simple tools fitting the need.

Linda Wright describes Amino as an artist who "found beauty where there was no beauty." The Wrights filled their home with Amino’s art, his works bringing aesthetic pleasure and serving as memories of the time of their creation. 


Leo Amino (1911-1989)

Leo Amino was born in Taiwan in 1911 and spent his childhood in Tokyo. He traveled to the United States in 1929 where he pursued a degree at a Junior College in San Mateo, California. Two years later, Amino enrolled in a liberal arts program at New York University, completing only one year before taking a job with a Japanese wood importing firm that specialized in distributing pre-cut Macassar ebony to manufacturers. Intrigued by the qualities of the wood, Amino took samples home and experimented with carving them. Recognizing his talent, Amino enrolled in the American Artists School in New York in 1937 where he briefly studied direct carving techniques under Chaim Gross.

Amino’s work was exhibited in the 1939 World’s Fair in New York and he had his first solo exhibition one year later. One of the first American artists to use plastic, Amino began experimenting with the material as early as the 1940s. Amino taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina from 1947-1950 and at Cooper Union from 1952-1977. Throughout his long career, Amino’s works exhibited sculptural prowess, a mastery of form and material imbued with human emotion. His work is in the permanent collections of several museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.  

Leo Amino 1911–1989

Leo Amino was born in Taiwan in 1911 and spent his childhood in Tokyo. He traveled to the United States in 1929 where he pursued a degree at a Junior College in San Mateo, California. Two years later, Amino enrolled in a liberal arts program at New York University, completing only one year before taking a job with a Japanese wood importing firm that specialized in distributing pre-cut Macassar ebony to manufacturers. Intrigued by the qualities of the wood, Amino took samples home and experimented with carving them. Recognizing his talent, Amino enrolled in the American Artists School in New York in 1937 where he briefly studied direct carving techniques under Chaim Gross.

Amino’s work was exhibited in the 1939 World’s Fair in New York and he had his first solo exhibition one year later. One of the first American artists to use plastic, Amino began experimenting with the material as early as the 1940s. Amino taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina from 1947-1950 and at Cooper Union from 1952-1977. Throughout his long career, Amino’s works exhibited sculptural prowess, a mastery of form and material imbued with human emotion. His work is in the permanent collections of several museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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