Canada is pleased to present ComeClose, an exhibition of new paintings by Joan Snyder that glow with intense feeling and color. The shapes, marks, and images in ComeClose are distilled from decades of dedicated studio work. The paintings are not easy to categorize, containing lush allusions to nature, complex formal strategies, and a unique painterly lexicon.

In Pond Dreaming, viewers may recognize marks reminiscent of her “stroke” paintings from the 1970’s. In the center of the painting, there is a dark oval of glassy pigment that looks like a dark reflecting pool, situating her work between abstraction and representation. In the upper right-hand corner, a white square with dripping pinks recalls her elegiac cherry tree paintings. Marks and ideas circulate inside the paintings as the artist travels through her painting life. The way Snyder’s practice embraces such disparate components as grid-like structure, representational elements, and true-to-life materiality makes these paintings uniquely their own.

An important source of material for the paintings comes from the numerous small drawings that Snyder makes in notebooks that she carries with her when she hears live music. Music is an essential inspiration for her, and she has said that she feels as though she can hear colors. The sketches, made quickly in pen, look like X-rays or diagrams. Snyder fills the margins with diaristic disclosures of thoughts and feelings, along with notes for possible material and colors she wants to use. She revisits the notebooks periodically over years, leaving small, dated entries to memorialize her visits. When the time is right, the paintings get made.

The musicality of the paintings becomes visible through a sense of movement through time. The multi-paneled horizontal paintings lend themselves to moving our eyes from left to right across the surface, seeing the work in an episodic manner. In Trio, we see the power of placing, what at first glance seem like unrelated thoughts together on the same plane. While clearly made by the same painter, the tempo, palette, and density of the images vary from section to section. In Snyder’s hands such diversity makes perfect sense and suits her soul-bearing practice.

There is an earthy and bodily quality to Snyder’s work. Evident in both the suggestive fleshy haunches in the center of Grounding and in the soil and sticks Snyder applies to the raw linen that she often uses. The dark brown linen isn’t simply the support for the paintings but an important color and texture of its own. The paintings are redolent of the scent of decaying plants, a freshly plowed field, or rain drizzling on a clothesline heavy with laundry. The grounded quality of the works, despite their abstraction, is what makes them so satisfying. It’s as if Snyder’s practice is related to gardening, the way she plunges her hands into the richly fecund material giving the viewer a taste of the tactile pleasure that Snyder finds in her studio.  

There is no doubt that Snyder, at age 83, is making some of the best paintings of her career. The accumulation of her powers as an artist are on full display. She continues to find ways to go deeper into her practice. Snyder’s work is a call to courage. Despite all that is happening in the world she beckons us in, to come close, to see shared pathos, beauty, and joy.  

Joan Snyder first gained public attention in the early 1970s with her gestural and elegant "stroke paintings", which used the grid to deconstruct and retell the story of abstract painting. By the mid1970s she began to incorporate symbols and text, as the paintings took on a more complex materiality. She is often referred to as an autobiographical or confessional artist; her paintings are essentially narratives of both personal and communal experiences. Nature and the landscape have always been another strong focus of her work. Through a fiercely individual approach and persistent experimentation with technique and materials, Snyder has extended the expressive potential of abstract painting and inspired generations of emerging artists.