Joan Snyder has been a well-known and respected American feminist painter for almost five decades. Sometimes exhibits of Snyder’s work have included a few of her prints, but the attention has been mainly on paintings.
Now for the first time there’s a major retrospective exhibit devoted entirely to her prints. There are 66 works in the exhibit, titled “Dancing With the Dark,” which opens Friday, Sept. 14, at the University of New Mexico Art Museum.
“She’s been painting since the mid-1960s though she’s also been making prints since the ’60s. Many people didn’t know she was making prints throughout her career. I guess they were focusing on her paintings,” said Marilyn Symmes, the curator of prints and drawings at Rutgers University’s Zimmerli Art Museum.
Symmes and Snyder organized the traveling exhibit that originated at the Zimmerli.
Symmes believes the artist, who received a MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 2007, has taken a special approach to printmaking.
“Usually the process of prints is to make as many as you can that are replicated so each impression is the same. What Joan does is work against that process,” she said.
“Usually people like to work only in woodcut or lithography (or other techniques). In the 1990s she started to combine techniques, and she decided to hand-color different impressions so each is slightly different.”
What Symmes finds remarkable about Snyder’s prints is that they’re “very painterly with her color application and reflect her interest as a painter.”
Her prints, she said, mediate between her interest in expressionist and abstract art, and that dual interest as painter carries over to the subjects in her prints.
Snyder’s art has explored themes expressed through the lens of her personal experience, such as female sexuality, motherhood, mortality and outrage at injustice, according to a printed gallery guide for visitors to the exhibit.
Symmes said Snyder’s most autobiographical print is the 1997 “My Work.”
At the bottom of the print are the words stating that her work “has been absolutely faithful to me. In the center there’s a heart. It’s part heart, part valentine, part female sexual anatomy, the life-giving part of a woman. And it also speaks to the creative force,” the curator said.
Surrounding the image are aspects and materials in the art-making process, and there are words related to myriad subjects – such as moon, totems, symphonies, blossoms, she said.
All of those subjects, and others, allude either to what has inspired Snyder’s work, are depicted in it or incorporated in it in some way, Symmes said.
Another work in the show that addresses the artist’s contributions to feminist art and history is “Our Foremothers” (1995), she said.
“It’s a very colorful print of different women’s names. When you probe further, you see these are names mentioned … in the Old Testament. To that list she’s added the names of her mother, grandmother, daughter, sister and her partner,” Symmes said.
“It celebrates the triumph of women in the Biblical past who helped to promote the rights of women and who took on challenges … and how they’ve overcome them.”
Snyder, who has art studios in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Woodstock, N.Y., has shown her art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, at the National Museum of Women in the Art in Washington, D.C., and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among other museum venues.