Material Innovation

A Work in Cast Resin by Leo Amino

Leo Amino was acutely aware of broad movements happening in the art world and kept pace with the great artists of his time. Throughout his career, Amino innovated both in his use of new materials as well as the forms he produced with this material. Initially, the Surrealists provided a great deal of influence on his work, and Amino delved into the power of the unconscious mind.

Materially, Leo Amino is one of the most inventive artists of his time, and he is one of the first artists to utilize plastics in sculpture. These experiments involved many techniques producing multifarious results. Transparent resin was cast and formed into solid shapes with both a biomorphic or geometric silhouette. Amino would cast wire or abstract elements into the shapes as well as inject dyes into the forms producing numerous effects.  Amino also used a matrix of wire mesh which provided the framework for the application of polyvinyl acetate, more of a constructivist technique that differed from casting. This material was opaque and the textures and forms relate to architecture and construction as well as primordial sculpture. In another technique, clear plastic sheets were cut into small geometric shapes and glued together in a dense structure which produced abstract relief paintings as well as 3-dimensional assemblages. In the more prolific period at the end of his career, geometric forms in colored plastic reflected and refracted light producing optical effects in addition to aesthetic pursuits.

More than any other artist, Leo Amino was not afraid to shift styles or subject matter or limit himself to one material. The diverse range of style and material reflects an inquisitive and innovative artist immersed in the world in which he lived.

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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