Leo Amino explored the dynamics of spatial relationships in masterful sculptures created with a variety of materials, including wood, wire, and plastics. Particularly revered for the fluidity of his translucent creations, Amino once noted that “dealing with transparency, one becomes very conscious of the effects of different kinds of light.” Born in Taiwan, the future artist’s father was an agricultural consultant for the Japanese government; Amino’s youth was spent in Tokyo, where he received some training in carving. After immigrating to the United States in 1929, he studied at San Mateo Junior College in California for two years before moving to New York. There, he was employed by a Japanese firm that imported ebony, samples Amino took home to carve.
Amino continued his education at New York University and at the American Artists School in 1937, studying with Chaim Gross, a leading proponent of direct carving. Although their relationship was contentious, they shared an appreciation for the inherent qualities of materials and organic shapes. The other potent influence on Amino was the sculptor Henry Moore whose work he encountered on a trip to England in 1938. The following year, Amino’s own sculpture was exhibited at the New York World’s Fair. His artistic activities were curtailed during World War II, during which he served as a translator in the United States Navy.
After the war, Amino began to experiment with synthetic resins, the first artist to do so. He spent two summers—1947 and 1950—at Black Mountain College, near Asheville, North Carolina, where he taught in wood, as the school lacked proper facilities to work in plastic. His exploration of the expressive potential of plastic, however, was thoroughly in keeping with the Bauhaus-influenced curriculum of the college, and corresponded to Josef Albers’ early work in glass. Subsequently, while teaching at the Cooper Union in New York from 1952 until 1977, Amino pioneered uses of plastic that embraced carved, cast, and embedded processes. Both the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art recognized his groundbreaking talents in solo and group exhibitions.