Joan Snyder (b. 1940, Highland Park, New Jersey, US) made her breakthrough in the late 1960s with ‘stroke’ paintings such as Lines and Strokes (1969) and Symphony (1970). Painted in New York City around the same time as the Woodstock Music Festival, Snyder’s contribution at this moment of cultural dissent was a rebellion against the male-dominated abstract movements of Minimalism and Color Field painting, both of which were perpetuating strict adherence to modernist principles.
Snyder worked personal stories into abstract painting and adapted established ideas to fit her own sensibility, introducing gestural flourishes and personal symbolism into a discourse where the avoidance of interpretative clues and evidence of the artist’s hand had been the norm. The grid, on which she grounded these and many later works, was adopted as a way of introducing a narrative chronology, rather than a reference to the organising principle of modernism. ‘The strokes in my paintings speak of my life and experiences. They are sometimes soft … they sometimes laugh and are often violent … they bleed and cry and struggle to tell my story with marks and colours and lines and shapes.”
Towards the mid-1970s, Snyder was moving away from the stroke and grid. She continued to create autobiographical, spiritual and sometimes political works, but started to create layers of ‘non-art materials’ that supported the narrative, as in Vanishing Theater/The Cut (1974), where she incorporated thread, chicken wire, fake fur and cheesecloth. As Lance Esplund commented in the Wall Street Journal, Snyder’s use of totemic objects ‘reminds us that no matter how modern and civilized we are, art can still be raw, primitive and talismanic. Without apologies or decorum, Ms. Snyder’s work awakens all of the things still wild within us.’
Snyder’s impact on abstract art and materialistic exploration of painting has brought her widespread critical claim and institutional recognition. In December 2018, she appeared in Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera, a major exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.