In her third show at Betty Cunningham gallery, Joan Snyder, painter of anxiety and disquiet, presents a mellower side. “A Year in the Painting Life,” the exhibition title, emphasizes autobiographical threads in her work. As a committed feminist Snyder was put off by the hard drinking, bad boy womanizing that defined Abstract Expressionist masculinity, in the 1950s. She sought instead to develop a feminine sensibility that she defined with layers, membranes, vaginas, holes, breasts, slits and moist, watery places.
The artist’s new assemblages including Brooklyn (2010) and The Fall with Other Things in Mind (2009) feature found objects; gritty soil, seeds, spent flowers, dried herbs, scattered leaves, stained burlap, and knotted fabric. Her previously rigorous grids have morphed into blurred color patches vertically shifting between rectangular bands, abandoning the structural formality of her former years in favor of a more atmospheric approach to the transient effects of light she experiences outside her studio in Woodstock, New York.
WOL (2010) stands for “Women of Liberia,” and was inspired by a recent documentary about a grassroots organization of Liberian women who courageously stopped the brutal civil war that had plagued the country. The bloody spaces between intervals of congealed white pigment and smeared black holes are suggestive of skulls. The thin, razor sharp brushstrokes are laid down on the surface in jagged lines that cut into the surface suggesting a series of scars. Big Blue Two (2010) is composed of lush passages of scarlet, burnt orange, foxy brown pigment supplemented by a scatter of objects found in nature—twigs, berries, and stems. This mosaic is peppered with enormous white blobs of paint that careen across the surface. In the foreground a vibrant band of deep lavender punctuated by scarlet and burnt umber decaying leaves floating on a stream. Her depiction seems to stand for the fertile ground of nature itself.
Snyder made Ode to B (2009) as homage to her friend Mary Hambleton, who died in 2009. Snyder’s painting with its rosey floating broken heart suggests a warmth and depth of feeling that is profoundly moving. The artist deliberately draws our attention to this burning organ that floats above the loosely connected shimmering waves below. The paint has the consistency of a vanilla milkshake and glistens. Choppy strokes of blue, ruby ripples and boat-like shapes are randomly scattered throughout an expanse of silvery sea. The emotional intensity of this painting conveys a sense of ardor and grief.