Interview With Artist Joan Snyder
Joan Snyder (American, born 1940), Madrigal X from 33 Madrigals, 2001, monoprint (color lithograph, monotype, and color woodcut) on paper, 33 1/2 x 35 1/2 inches, Collection of the artist
The University of Richmond Museums opens their spring season with a retrospective of Joan Snyder’s work in the exhibition Dancing with the Dark: Joan Snyder Prints 1963-2010. The exhibition features a selection of more than sixty works by Snyder created between 1963 and 2010.
It is the first retrospective of the artist’s prints. A nationally noted painter and 2007 MacArthur Fellow, Snyder has developed a body of work that explores aspects of nature, humanity, and identity. A pioneering feminist artist, she has infused her works with physical energy and vibrant color to express deeply personal experiences.
We were able to catch-up with her over the New Year and talk about her work and the exhibition:
GayRVA: What made you get started as an artist?
Snyder: I took an undergraduate course as a senior in college even though I was a Sociology major. I fell in love with painting. When I began painting I felt like I was speaking for the first time. I had painted as a younger person but stopped years before I was in college.
Your work has strong feminist undertones and messages, have you received any negative or misogynistic responses?
Good question. I do get some negative reactions for the feminist issues that are in my work. It can definitely be used against me. If Julian Schnabel or Cy Twombley writes on a painting people think they’re sensitive, poetic, even heroic. If I write on a painting I’m called a feminist and that’s a dirty word, as it’s being used. I’ve also been accused of putting my heart on my sleeve, an old expression, and once again if a man paints sensitively these ‘accusations’ are not made.
I see that you live in New York. Have you gotten involved with the Occupy Wall Street Movement? Have you been directly involved with other social movements? Do you think the visual arts has a central spot in politics?
I was not involved with OWS but loved it from a distance. In the 70′s I was very involved with the women’s art movement. I also was involved with anti Vietnam war movements through political art organizations. The visual arts do not have a ‘central spot in politics’, not at all.
The nomination process for a MacArthur Fellowship is fairly secretive. Was it a major surprise to get notified? How did they notify you or is that secret too?
I was completely surprised. I got a phone call from a man saying he was the head of the MacArthur Foundation asking me if I knew what that was. I did and thought they were calling to get a recommendation from me. He asked if I was holding a baby and I said no. He then told me that I was being awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. I then said to him, hold on I have to put the baby down. My joke. I was told that I or Maggie my partner, couldn’t tell anyone for a week because it takes them that amount of time to do all the filming and press releases of the new fellows. That was hard, walking around with that news and not saying a word to anyone. It’s been an amazing experience that has taken me years to absorb. I consider it to be the highest praise imaginable and also a validation of 50 years of very hard work.
How involved were you with the production of this retrospective? How do you feel seeing all your life’s progress and work displayed all together?
I was very involved for years with Marilyn Symmes, my curator. She came to my studio at least twice a month for 2 years, going through every print, every proof, every drawing relating to every print, even my diaries were fair game for Marilyn. She scoured everything and I and my assistant, Mira Dancy, helped her do that. I was also very involved in the accompanying book. I worked on editing the essays before they went to the real editor. I also helped color correct the images. We did that 2 or 3 times back and forth to the printer who was in China. The details and work involved to put together a print retrospective are endless. It’s more work than anyone could possibly imagine.
Many of your reviews remark how your work falls into the feminist genre. Would you accept that label?
I don’t. But what’s a girl to do?
Do you work in a subconscious way? Is painting in any way meditative for you?
The subconscious has to be very involved in the painting process. It’s a non-verbal activity and yes painting is completely meditative for me. I am definitely in a state, a zone, when I work which is not unlike a state one is in while meditating.
I see on your website that you refer to yourself as a ‘confessional artist.’ Do you ever worry that you have given out too much of yourself?
Do you need to keep some things secret?
There are, believe it or not, some secrets left. But everyone who looks at a work of art sees something different. So my theory is that you can say almost anything you want in and with a work and the audience brings their own thoughts and perceptions to it. And we’re talking about abstract art so it’s never that clear or obvious. And if it is obvious, it just means that it’s something I had to say in the work. Something that had to be there, no matter what.
Was it difficult establishing yourself as both a woman and lesbian?
I never had to establish myself as either. I have no need to announce that I’m a woman, that’s obvious and I’ve never been a professional lesbian, that is being gay has not been a political issue for me. I was married to a man for 15 years who I was in love with and had a child with and my partner for the last 25 years has been a woman. There are stories, things that had to be dealt with that weren’t easy years ago when I came out but it always seemed and still seems quite natural to me.
In reviews of your work, I see references to sexuality. Is there any particular special focus like a queer sexuality?
In my work if I address sexuality it is really just my own personal experience of it. Would I call it queer sexuality? I never have. Just sexuality. This topic could be a panel in itself. There is probably a lot to think about, talk about, wonder about, etc.
The opening reception and lecture is Monday, January 23 from 7 – 9 p.m. Joan Synder and Marilyn Symmes, Director of the Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings, Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, and curator of the exhibition will host Artist and Curator: A Conversation in the Cousins Studio Theatre in the Modlin Center for the Arts from 7 – 8 p.m. A reception and viewing will follow until 9 p.m. The exhibition is in the Joel & Lila Harnett Museum of Art.
Jon Henry comes from the small town of Washington, Virginia. Xe finished xes degree at the University of Richmond and was named GayRVA.com's Out.Spoken. Richmonder of the Year for 2011. When not in class, xe is either in the studio or rabble rousing with other queer activists. Follow xem on Twitter.
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