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Joan Snyder, Another Painter Extraordinaire

October 22, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I purchased a book of Joan Snyder’s work (Joan Snyder by Hayden Herrera). I have been aware of her painting for decades and have always admired it, and her book had been on my “wish-list” for quite some time, but when I opened it I was more than hooked. It’s a delicious tome that I lug around just about wherever I go turning each page with a slowness I’m not used to, making sure I don’t miss a thing. And I haven’t only been examining the luscious photos of her paintings, but  poring over every word to understand her work more fully. A cover to cover endeavor, almost unheard of for me regarding a book like this. And the more I read and refer to the paintings mentioned, the more enthralled I become.

From artnet and Betty Cuningham Gallery

PAINT THE HOUSE, 1970  Color chalk, ink, pencil, oil pastel and gouache on paper, h: 30 x w: 22 in


Joan Snyder was born April 16, 1940 in Highland Park, New Jersey. A painter and print-maker , she is both a MacArthur Fellow and Guggenheim Fellow. In 1966 she received an M.F.A. from Rutgers, The State University, New Brunswick, NJ

From The Jewish Museum

SQUARES, 1972 Oil, acrylic, and flock on canvas 48″ x 48″

According to a 2008 City Beat (Cincinnati) review by Matt Morris:  Her paintings are positioned in the discourse of Postmodernism and the circular argument of “post-post” we are treading presently. Her vocabulary of strokes, blossoms and chunky blocks is the tamest element of the paintings. Plant matter, paper pulp and who-knows-what have been collaged onto most of the surfaces. “Flow,” for example is initially colored with the blue-green shades of a babbling brook. But seeds glitter and a swath of cheesecloth have been embedded into paint that sometimes gets transparent and gelatinous enough to resemble splatters of vomit.

Snyder exaggerates every potential element of abstract painting, toying with decoration, assemblage and ugly beauty. A stunning diptych, “Primary Fields” courts a lazy grid on a white ground with a fiery canvas of rosy and bloody reds. On the left, little rectangles of dripping paint are arranged on bars like musical compositions or penmanship exercises. The right canvas is like a Monet set aflame with juicy spots that look like gaping wounds. It is a Baroque and metaphysical painting.

FREE TO IMAGINE / LIKE MY CHILD (diptych) 1985 Oil, acrylic, pencil on paper on canvas, h: 36 x w: 72 in

Joan Snyder, FREE TO IMAGINE / LIKE MY CHILD (diptych)

“Making art is, for me, practicing a religion. … My work is my pride, creates for me a heritage. It is a place to struggle freely at my altar.” These words were spoken by Joan Snyder for the Fortieth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting held at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 1987. Twenty-five years earlier Snyder experienced an epiphany, which she expressed with these words, “I felt like my whole life, I had never spoken … had never been heard … had never said anything that had any meaning. When I started painting, it was like I was speaking for the first time.” Joan Snyder is known for the intensity of her feelings. A true Expressionist and feminist in her life and art, this veteran painter uses the broadest possible palette to paint the canvas of her life. From Jewish Women’s Arcive


ORATORIO, 1997, oil, acrylic, plastic grapes, feathers, fabric nails, mud, herbs, paper mache, graphite and paper on canvas, 72″ x 114″

From A Painting Survey, 1969-2005

Snyder gained early recognition with her “stroke paintings” which she made between 1969 and 1973. These works relied on the repeated gesture of a paint-laden brush applied over a grid penciled on the canvas. With the physicality of their drips and marks, the stroke paintings exploited new opportunities for narrative within abstraction. The tension between narrative content and formalism in these works may be seen in the larger context of the art world of the late 1960s, in which cool, hard-edged minimalism was pervasive and painting with any emotional reference was suspect. The artist has said that the strokes are about paint itself—paint moving across the canvas; paint as medium for feelings, sensations, or sounds; paint suggesting a storyline. After making these abstractions, Snyder felt the need to create more complex works, which express her political and social concerns. She moved on to paintings that integrate personal associations she has with her family, feminism, her Jewish heritage, spirituality, and the environment. Consequently her work moved from an implied narrative about the act of making art to a more personal narrative.

From artnet and Betty Cuningham Gallery

STILL/LIFE, 2002 Oil, acrylic, herbs & fabric on wood panel h: 42 x w: 66 in

 Joan Snyder, STILL/LIFE

From: THE Magazine – Los Angeles: SolwayJones

BLOOD ON OUR HANDS, 2003 acrylic, cloth, glitter, pencil, photographic image on panel, 16 x 16 inches

Paintings and Prints

Excerpted from MacArthur Fellows 2007

Joan Snyder is an accomplished artist whose abstract paintings defy categorization and traverse genres.  Over the four decades of her prolific career, Snyder’s body of work has continually evolved in style and form.  Beginning with her early “stroke” paintings – intense swaths of color painted over pencil-drawn grids – her works have been essentially narratives of both personal and communal experiences.  In these paintings, each brush stroke is like a character in a story, pulsing with emotion and vitality.  After abandoning formal grids as the basic structure of her paintings, Snyder’s work became more explicitly gestural and rooted in memory, while at the same time more complex materially.  She began to incorporate text scrawled into the paint or frames, as well as found objects such as herbs, sticks, feathers, mud, and nails, to create works saturated with feeling.  InThe Cherry Tree (1993), for instance, a work expressing Snyder’s grief surrounding her father’s death, she uses paint, papier-mâché, and straw to render an image that is both elegiac and thriving.  While her paintings mirror her personal experience, the visual messages she provides through her images convey universal and readily understood emotions.  Through a fiercely individual approach and persistent experimentation with technique and materials, Snyder has extended the expressive potential of abstract painting and inspired a generation of emerging artists.

From artnet and Betty Cuningham Gallery

DREAMTIME FOR EAS , 2006 Acrylic, oil, paper-mache, cloth, herbs, glitter, h: 60 x w: 78 in


From LA Times, Culture Monster, Joan Snyder Review:

LIFE OF A TREE  2007, oil, acrylic, cloth, berries, papier-mâché, glitter, nails, pastel, on linen.

Joan Snyder Life of a Tree

The six paintings and four prints in veteran New York artist Joan Snyder’s L.A. solo debut are vintage Snyder: chewy clots of mismatched materials wrestled into abstract images that are lyrical without being lightweight, visceral without being heavy-handed.

At the Solway-Jones Gallery, the fleshy physicality and broken-bones impact begins with the stuff Snyder uses. Into her gooey mixes of dripping acrylics and runny oils she sprinkles seeds, herbs, twigs, glitter and nails. She contains these stews with nest-like enclosures sculpted from papier-mâché and torn strips of fabric. When they dry, they have the presence of wounded flesh, freshly scabbed over yet too sensitive to touch. Think of these parts of her paintings as scars in the making.

The soaring lyricism in Snyder’s otherwise dark art comes through via her capacity to make paint sing. She slaps gestures together with the best of them without wasting a move or missing a beat.

There’s a no-nonsense frugality to her funky art, which is nothing if not serious. There’s also great pleasure, which comes with the wisdom of knowing what you can do and then doing more than that for reasons you can’t quite explain.

It’s odd for an artist of Snyder’s stature to be having her first solo show in L.A. It’s doubly so because her go-it-alone, category-be-damned, DIY-style rhymes so well with so much of the best painting made in L.A. — David Pagel

Snyder’s work can be seen in New York City in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Jewish Museum which featured a major survey of Snyder’s work in 2005. Museums throughout the country include The High Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts.

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