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Blain│Southern opens Joan Snyder's first solo exhibition in the UK
Joan Snyder, Rosebuds and Rivers, Installation View, 2019, Blain│Southern London, Photo: Peter Mallet.

LONDON.- Blain|Southern is presenting Rosebuds & Rivers, Joan Snyder’s (b. 1940, New Jersey, US) first solo exhibition in the UK. Comprising new and recent paintings, the exhibition will include a group of monumental triptychs and diptychs alongside smaller-scale works. It offers an insight into the experimentation and visual language for which Snyder is celebrated.

One of the pre-eminent artists of her generation, Joan Snyder made her breakthrough in the late 1960s with her ‘stroke’ paintings – a body of abstractions developed from her experiments regarding the anatomy of a painting. She painted paint strokes and other dissected parts – gestures, drips and marks – and laid them over pencilled grids, using the structures as a basis from which to compose narratives. ‘At the time my idea was to study the anatomy of a stroke, isolating them and using them much like creating a symphony or a piece of music’.

The desire to put in more, not less, to tell her stories led Snyder to break with the prevailing male-dominated abstract movements of Minimalism and Colour Field painting. She began to work from a loose grid to create mixed media paintings which she felt drew from a female sensibility: ‘… our experiences are different, our bodies are different, our lives are different and if we’re going to write or make art it’s going to be different.’ Finding a new way to ‘speak’ by using non-art materials and personal symbolism, Snyder has over the past five decades developed a distinctive visual vocabulary. ‘I speak with symbols and marks and colours and material.’

Building up surfaces with paint and organic matter, Snyder creates paintings that are narratives of both personal and shared experiences. In the largest work in the exhibition, Fragments of a Soul (2018), pieces of bark, herbs, glitter and scribbles on tiny pieces of paper form a saga of totem-like figures in a vast landscape. Chinese herbs and amber resin adorn the canvas of Floating Soul (2018); the artist describes adding scraps of paper with hidden notes as ‘almost performative’, it ‘became like the Wailing Wall for me, where I was making little notes and then pinning them on and just being caught up in that process.’

Many of Snyder’s paintings originate from sketches, but not all. Yellow Figure (2018), is a work that happened spontaneously. Composed of three figures, the painting is part of a series of works, relating to a mother-daughter saga of her own. She says of this recent work ‘I really love being in my studio as intense and difficult as the subject matter might be. I trust my process, I go on automatic pilot and use a language I’ve built up over many years. It isn't a verbal language that can be easily described, it often is coming from the collective unconscious. You can’t always put it in words … there’s a kind of magic that happens.’

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