San Francisco

Joan Snyder

Michael Walls Gallery

The exhibition of Joan Snyder’s paintings at the Michael Walls Gallery gives San Franciscans their first opportunity on the West Coast to see some recent paintings seen and written about in the East (“The Anatomy of a Stroke: Recent paintings by Joan Snyder” by Marcia Tucker, Artforum, May 1971). Many of these paintings have never before been exhibited. Seeing the actual paintings rather than just reproductions reveals a large amount of powdered brass in the paint, as well as copper, bronze, etc.; photographs revealed that factor to a degree, but the metallic paint was apparently from an aerosol can. There are any number of different consistencies and qualities of metallic paint: sprayed, brushed, fat impastos and thin runny mixtures, oil, and lacquer as well as acrylic. The artist has gridded her paintings with pencil lines, but, from the appearance, with no particular measuring, just the eye. The pencil lines are still there on top of the sized canvas, a guide to place the strokes. The colors have been studied into lists and sets; the rhythms and intervals seem akin to music, a chromatic score. A score for visual reading would, of course, work forward and backward; I don’t imagine that anyone would try to read these from left to right only, as with a page of print or a musical score. Also I don’t imagine that the artist wants the viewer to think in spatial terms. The strokes of paint are usually isolated with the canvas very much in evidence, so there is a possible spatial reading, for instance, a landscape is horizontal and so are the strokes. Probably no such illusion is intended. It is painting, not an illusion of anything or anywhere. Color painters often use simple, rather meaningless formats to hold their colors, but most colorists are conscious of the relationships of colors, their vibrant effect on one another, how one color changes another, whereas Snyder’s colors are often so separate that she seems to be looking for new colors, one at a time, inventively. The relations come later, but each color seems to have been sought for itself, and each group is a repetition of essentially sameness. Snyder’s working process is divorced from preplanning: her process must have been a succession of discoveries. In the newer paintings are birds of color with too much medium making them translucent as gems; they may have been linear strokes tied into knots.

Michael Walls and his gallery will move to Los Angeles this winter. Few in San Francisco would climb his stairs even when the work on the walls was first rate, and he has found a large, light space down south.

Knute Stiles