3.27.2009

meeting joan snyder.





last night i was invited to attend a reception for the painter Joan Snyder, whose exhibition of paintings from the past ten years is underway at Carl Solway Gallery. i felt honored to be there, especially when the artist spoke at length of the personal stories and stages of her life that compelled the paintings we have been seeing in Solway for the past several months. Closer to the opening of this exhibition, I reviewed the Snyder's paintings along with the other exhibitions also on view at Solway. The article appeared in City Beat, and you can read it here.






Snyder is certainly a painter within the lineage of abstract expressionism, but throughout her career, fugitive and collaged elements have found their way into the goopy, broiling scapes of oil paint she configures, usually at immense scales. i have long had a soft spot for the soft spots in some of her earlier paintings, such as those that were included in the behemoth exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution that travelled all over, but i was fortunate to be able to see at PS1. In these works, downy piles of flocking interrupt the fields of stains and slushy paint marks. The fuzzy texture surprised and delighted me, as if the suggestiveness of texture that painting affords was somehow alchemized into whole new physical properties.

In these paintings on view, Snyder has added herbs and plant matter onto the surface of the work. This was one of several facets of her work that were opened up to those of us in attendance through an impromptu artist's talk in the gallery space during the reception last night.

I was struck, as she spoke, by how these pieces, in her mind, evolved gradually. (I'm reluctant to say 'naturally,' although she might have. I just believe consistently in the construction of our self-views, art practices, etc etc.) There was no evident contrivance in her accounts (unlike my experience, for example, of Donald Sultan's explanations of his linoleum paintings on display at the CAC). The plant matter, for example, was introduced into the paintings during a time that her studio shared a building with a Chinese homeopathy business. When the woman running the shop decided that loose herbs were a less sanitary option for her patients compared to the available capsules, she offered the herbs to Snyder, who began embedding them in paint as a way to make what she described as "healing paintings." Eventually, she seemed to decide that the distinction between some artworks possessing some new age power more than art in general was marginal at best and began liberally incorporating them into the materials of her work.

A point she made that seemed to get noticeable reaction from those in attendance, though I'm not positive why, was that she will sometimes return to a painting, making changes and adjustments years after its supposed 'completion.' As she described this push-and-pull in her process over the long term, the rise in whispered exchanges and comments was audible, noticeable. Why was that such a radical notion for some?





Probably the most exciting element of the evening were several additional works on display, brought out and put onto easels and hung on extra wall space in the main galley of the first floor of the gallery. These prints and works on paper complimented the large scale paintings in the basic exhibition. Personally, more than the insights that an artist might offer about their own work (and Snyder's were compelling and personable), I learn so much from seeing how the habits, styles, and issues of an artist's work are translated into different media that they care about. The screen-prints and glitter-caked painting/drawings on paper subdued some of the torrents that are set loose in the larger oil works, but were still toothy and aggressive.
Actually, one was familiar to me, because several weeks ago, I had seen it awaiting a frame in Bill Renschler's frame shop upstairs from the gallery. I was struck by the piece's vulnerability, lying there on the table, a slightly warped, heavily painted sheet of paper. It occurred to me that Renschler and Krista Gregory (who run Aisle Gallery just outside the frame shop) are privy to levels of exposure in artworks that common viewers don't get to see. I can say that this piece was very different framed than unframed. The frame allowed its stormy qualities to gather and exude; it reinforced a notion that many many aesthetes have proclaimed, but I believe I read Lynda Benglis saying it, so it has stuck with her in my mind: context is everything.







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