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Joan Snyder, Sunflowers, 1996 (detail)

JOAN SNYDER:
WORKS ON PAPER

by Michael Klein

"Joan Snyder: Works on Paper" surveys the artist's work from her signature "stroke" paintings of the late '60s to her present autobiographical works. Snyder recognized that the myriad stories of her life, from the birth of her daughter to her divorce from photographer Larry Fink, could be part of a long-running exploration of identity. Her paintings and works on paper document the internal dialogue of a person whose time is spent alone painting in the studio. Her subject is the act of reflection through the representation of gardens, flowers or a cherry tree.

Snyder has devoted a good deal of energy and time laboring over the issues of death and dying. Her works consider the inevitable loss of parents (reflected in the work Rites of Passage), the loss of friends from sudden illness (the "Candles for Clem" series) and the death of children afflicted with AIDS. And although Snyder has written about the pain of loss and the grieving process, the turmoil and personal rage are finally best expressed in purely visual terms, such as her 1988 woodcut For the Children. Here the central image of the haunting child recalls Edvard Munch's The Scream -- an icon of alarm and fright. Snyder's child is a victim of the numerous terrors that Munch and his generation also feared.

Her feminism is political, social and humanitarian because through her work she only asks one question: Why? Perhaps this is best symbolized by the monoprint Large Cross on Black #2, 1989, an animated Swiss cross that sails across a black sea with hope and purpose. (In the adjacent gallery is a recent acquisition show which includes a Kathe Kollowitz (1867-1945 ) lithograph, Death Seizes the Children, it is a great reminder that this brand of feminism has been at work for many years.)

Writing in the accompanying brochure, Brooklyn curator Marilyn Kushner notes that "in monoprinting Snyder has found a type of printmaking that is consistent with her painterly and expressive style when working on canvas." And this is certainly underscored by the simple fact that most of her prints are made in her own studio and not with a publisher. In fact, Snyder's prints are not monoprints but they are all monotypes. The difference is significant. The monoprint is the result of an application of medium to a plate that is then passed through a press just once. For a monotype, the print undergoes numerous stages of printing. Snyder's hallmark in printmaking is the use of several print techniques -- etching, lithography and wood block, for instance -- as well as different types of paper.

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