Search View Archive

Joan Snyder


Joan Snyder’s series “Primary Fields” is charged with a presence that is unapologetically expressive. Filled with psychic nourishment, one could say that she harnesses the romantic energies of gestural abstraction to express the layers of female and more deeply, human experience. But there is no doubt that these are the works of an older vocabulary, a reinvention of abstraction’s mythos through intelligent character.

Joan Snyder, Ritual, 2001. Oil, acrylic, papier-mâché, burlap, and herbs on linen. 72 x 84 inches. (c). Photo: Steven Sloman.

Painted over the course of three years, there are roughly three kinds of motifs which are progressively cross-pollinated to produce a dialogue of experience. The gridded window is a core motif, one that she returns to over and over in various reincarnations. Often yellow, its many weights and densities—from a lightly washed grid to creamy impastos—are explored. She threads illusionistic windowpanes over their disciplined flatness to create an ethereal space. Around this the artist plants roughly hewn circles made with thick stick-in-the-mud paint and herbs, often in rows whose associative meanings multiply: from weighty craters to planets that stare outward like so many eyes, from mud pie mandalas to campfires. They are either serious, threatening, or mysterious, depending on their placement and scale. Her third motif is the glass orb often placed inside a mandala, yet they hang off the surface with a confident awkwardness like bulbs of movie marquees to produce a feeling of improbability.

Snyder is an earth- mother of painting. She goes to her kitchen shelves and the flea market for ingredients of a harmonic feast in which the residue of flavors mesh with memory. She is also a classicist, informing her geometric analogues with an expressionist touch; and while she incorporates humble materials in rational ways in order to allow herself to “get wild” with emotional texture, the weaker works in the show are the expressionist landscapes which don’t generate the power of geometry.

Inclusive rather than exclusive Snyder talks about thinking about the beach when in the forest, or about death in April, the cruelest month. One can see in her diaristic approach, how this combination of playful hominess and decisive classicism meshes a sense of vitality with the regenerative aspects of death. This is the combination of attributes that allow her paintings to resonate with breath.


Rachel Youens

Rachel Youens is a painter, writer, and teacher who lives in Brooklyn.


The Brooklyn Rail


All Issues