Persimmon Life Studies

Mutinies and other Strategies – Jessica Snow

Brent: Color is the thing that drives the narrative in your work: it is there, upfront, unabashedly. It clashes! And if music were the closest partner to its poetry then I would wonder about its cymbal. With ‘Amplitude color droops down to ooze behind the eyeballs to form the central glue of the tale. It can pitch fastball, or skein delicate spatial routes that in their local veracity raises the hair of one’s logic.  ‘Feedback Loop’, also 2007, gives a motif of a central nightmarish gaping grin, the Cheshire Cat!

Whether this all happens on a single flat plane of paper or stands up thick and ‘object-plus’ on canvas the structural form of paint and how it sits enables and mixes the program.
What appears clear and sensible, open and respective can soon come undone. Unlikely avenues, hallucinogenic and the raucous thus become the sum.

Jessica: I’m thinking of the other day when my car hit a series of low-relief bars spanning the highway. A sign on the right, bright yellow, warns ‘RUMBLE STRIPS AHEAD’. The jarring ‘Brrump, brrump’ of the wheels disrupts the seamless continuity of moving through space. The noisy clamor shocks, which has a similar effect on my mind as that of the high-keyed colors I employ in my work.
Imagine a color wheel slowly beginning to spin; the concreteness of the pie form is destabilized, and the senses are awakened by the non-fixity of the experience.  In the piece you mention, ‘Feedback Loop’, color operates at the high pitch of the color wheel.  In this work I explore how systems, which continually loop back, unravel due to their constant repetition.

I generally veer towards a free-for-all color sensibility, although color choices are considered.  The palette for any given piece will have an individual modality that is unique to its making.  The one thing I can say about color, which is consistent through my work, is that neutrals and grays are continually employed to balance out pastels and highly saturated colors.  Yet immediately upon saying that, I’m searching for the off ramp, wary of such an assertion.  There will always be an exception to my rule.

Brent: Like going down the Rabbit Hole?

Jessica: Yes, it’s a topsy-turvy world – here the Cheshire Cat smile curves an arc in space as he loops around and slowly disappears.  And like a curving grin, the curvilinearity of the shapes in a work such as ‘Throw me for a Loop’ continually overthrows the order of the triangles.  Space turning in upon time, time turning in upon space.  Yet clarity must come in if one chooses to follow the white rabbit, or all is lost.  So within this world, space is contained, shapes are clearly delineated, the white of the paper provides a pure ground upon which this loopy little universe functions.  So the Cheshirean play between visible and non-visible is operative at the edges of the form.  The whiteness of the page provides a clear counterpoint to the wacky world it contains.

Brent: You mention the word ‘page’ instead of a sheet of paper.

I might be getting sidetracked here. I initially wanted to move onto the small hand-made cups that I recently saw you unpack and play around with in your studio. There is a history to these odd brightly colored ‘cells’, as you call then. And there is reason for them being called as such.

InEccentricity of the Middle Ground’, 1999, fourwalls artspace, SF, the cups work dotted three-dimensional. Other aspects are so fastened to the flat that again color finds itself at the fore to work as plans and surface… shapes oddly curving. The game suggests that things are not working straight despite a wall’s uprightness.

Jessica: A flow exists from one piece to the next, each situated within a continuum – I avoid formulas but will always look to previous work to inform my next step.  Referring to the works on paper as pages implies a pictorial before and after; a story is unfolding, which references not only the greater body of work, but also daily life, and how abstraction can reference the quotidian, or the aesthetic aspects of the everyday.  I don’t think this contradicts the qualities of Wonderland we were just talking about; in both worlds there are simply different sets of rules.

The gallery you mention, where I was invited to have a show, had a typical Edwardian interior – the wainscoting was a prominent feature of the walls, and I didn’t find them conducive to showing my paintings.  I decided to work with these particular characteristics of the interior architecture and painted directly on the wall to integrate the wainscoting into the work. The white walls enhanced the structural aspect of the 3-dimensional details. I worked so that the painted and architectural forms would merge, along with collaged elements that were dispersed throughout.

These collaged elements are the paper cells – I made hundreds of them.  At the time, my mom was undergoing a stem-cell transplant for an uncommon blood cancer.  She had to spend weeks undergoing treatment in the hospital, and when she had enough energy, she would knit scarves or caps.  I would visit her there, bringing scissors, glue and paper from which I would cut circles and long strips, fashioning them into these cells.  When I completed a few dozen, I’d take them to my studio to paint.

The proliferating cells eventually bivouacked through the multi-planar geometries of the wall painting, along with wire, string, ribbon, and map pins.  These improvised structures dispersed throughout were the only salvageable bits from the show.

Brent: When you get onto canvas ‘Architecture’s Internal Logic’ 2008 spares us the enclosure of a physical room.  Loose unfixed geometries ride patches of color; a tighter system creates a dimensional model; color performs chromatically but also summons paint application. One system enters, another exits: color form and logic heat up, then turn and melt.

Jessica: Yes, with the painting installation, the architectural details of the interior kept the work within the realm of the physical – one was always aware of the work as object.  With ‘Architecture’s Internal Logic’ we enter the realm of the imaginary – an ambiguous territory where systems and structures of both the natural and the constructed world coalesce.  To me, this painting is about the underlying logic of the world we live in, beyond the immediate physical appearance of things.  All of my work is about that, fundamentally, but this painting references architecture and landscape in a more explicit way than most of my current work.  It doesn’t anchor us within the physical, however; we’re transported through illusion into the singular internal logic of the painting.

Brent:Blue Parts and Other Aspects’, 2010 continues along the vein of the internal logic. It’s a largish canvas, and it is packed. Blue islands float, from which around emotional weather patterns appear to form visual thoughts. A storm brews within the swishy and sometimes muted color, adding somber gesture to the austere linearity of the dominant motifs that in each case extend outside the closure.

Jessica: Brent, you titled this painting, and I thank you!  As you know, for fun I had a little contest on Facebook—5 bucks to the person who could come up with the best title, and yours was wonderful:

The blue parts particularly impress upon me (I have my reasons.)  Though the other aspects are not simple, or secondary.  They weave.  They duplicate.  And they swirl.  There is a sense of intimate, yet also of massive scale.  Here I wonder the title of the painting.

You refer to it by its nickname, but what surprised me is that you were primarily impacted by the pools of blue (or ‘islands’ as you say), and these were among the first shapes I painted on the canvas.  The entire painting became organized around these pools, with the shape being echoed by the grey oval on the left, a storm cloud beginning to form, gaining strength before dispersing outwards.  The eye of the storm is turned inward while order holds court momentarily.  During the many months it took to make this painting, order would continually feel momentary, and usually out of reach. Twice I left off to work on small-scale work, frustrated by possible collapse or chaos midway.  Often I’ll stage a mutiny at this point if I’m starting to go a little nuts – either flip the canvas or scrape away a large portion of it.  And like a ship that’s lost a few deck hands in a storm, the painting gets reorganized midway.

For me, color is structure.  The painting ‘Against Gravity’ was brought to completion through shifting the color gradually. With gradual color adjustments of each element, I resolved the painting through the tightening of the chromatic structure – often an entire painting will get repainted, each color getting readjusted.  This might seem to contradict the ‘free-for-all’ sensibility we talked about earlier, but achieving that quality isn’t quite as easy as it seems.

Brent: Color runs like a Venetian blind in ‘Beyond a Reasonable Doubt’. The bars are tubes that form marimbas that play as you tap on each color.
The image is centered, or thereabouts, with the slats blinking at you in a slow and organized fashion. The flurry works when you strike one note, and then move to the next to do the same until it is understood that with the organizing structure you are able to take the sound and all its movement in at the same time. Though there is no overload, as you would get with more optical work: hence the pulse is presence not optical blight.
The squarish colored forms that circumvent the blinds have their vertices curved out.  They organize on planes and overlap to unfold in a mirrored dream-like play.  The attention is on color and the rhythm of the blinds at the juncture of a psychological state.

Jessica: Here I employed a certain system with color; I would match the bars of color from one side to the other, but then interspersed the matched bars with unmatched color, so the effect is staccato-like, jittery.  Reich’s ‘Nagoya Marimba’ is a great example to bring up, seeing the 2 marimbas adjoined while the piece is played makes it not only visually very similar, but the composer continually offsets the tones with the 2nd marimba, so the sound is like the balance and counter-balance I was looking for with this painting. I’m also thinking of Gould playing Bach’s ‘The Art of Fugue’, in which his left hand is more expressive, looks to be searching, in contradistinction to the surety and even quality of the right hand.  The “juncture of the psychological state” you mention arrives when there is a fusion between these 2 states of being.

The linen ground of the painting is much like ‘Navigating the Ineffable’, another painting where I wanted to achieve a quality similar to the works on paper by leaving the ground unpainted.  The little colorful ship, which passes through this painting, trumpets its exuberance about the beauty and mystery of life, much like the gesture of Gould’s left hand while he plays Bach’s Fugues.

Brent: In ‘Navigating the Ineffable’ the ground is left as linen, though where the rich color sits it is enveloped by beige. I notice here how the color really pops… clear, vivid, and need I say beautiful. This work also draws me to your paintings on paper and suggests paper and canvas are nearing some sort of cross talk or collision.

Jessica: I daresay there’s always a collision around the corner, seemingly de facto with my work!  You’re quick to point out that the most colorful part, a little ship as I describe it, sits on a ground a few shades lighter than the linen.  The lightness of the ground makes the colors pop.  This is why I return to paper consistently—I like the inherent whiteness and smoothness, and acrylic paint sitting atop it will burst with saturation. ‘Riffing on Louis’ Point of Tranquility’, a work I did recently, takes its title and inspiration from Morris Louis’ work of the same name.  What I love especially about the Color-field painters, Louis in particular, is how they would leave the support untouched and apply color directly, so the white of the canvas would cause the colors to really burst, as in this work from his Floral series.  Louis’ paintings confirm the process of their own making, how new colors will form naturally as paint flows together.  My work doesn’t do that – it isn’t true to nature in that respect.  I will make up a color for the intersection where color flows into each other.  I’m after an effect that visually suits the eye, and this isn’t necessarily the result of a natural process.

Brent: In two versions of ’Riffing on Louis’ Point of Tranquility’, with the original turned upside down, your paint handling is flat and opaque, replacing the natural stains of Louis’ with solid forms and elongated petals that nonetheless burst forth. These smallish paintings on paper are not tongue-in-cheek, nor ideologically set towards the pure.

Target’ is closer to Noland than ‘Tranquility’ is to Louis. Acrylic and sumi ink on paper with dimensions 52″ x 46″ ‘Target‘ sits mid-size and is oddly positioned leaving unusual breathing room at the base.  A bulls-eye:  a number of concentric circles receding into or coming out from the void; orbs of colors, in your case thin bands of icy color that warble as they go around.

Jessica: Yes, thinner bands of hot pink and orange punctuate those icy colors, difficult to see in the reproduction. I wanted to paint a target because the image has a visual immediacy.  I think the eye responds to the target because in a sense it is a diagram about the act of seeing, being about focus, while at the same time suggestive of an awareness of the expanding visual field.

These recent works, the riff on Louis and the target, are similar in that they are weighted at the center and expand out visually to the edges, albeit through different optical flows.  And I did flip the Louis, rotated from the original, to emphasize that it is not about the natural flow of paint onto canvas. Ironically though, it was Noland who was open to having his targets sit any which way on the wall.  My target hangs in one position, the composition isn’t centered on a square rather it sits toward the top of a rectangular piece of paper.  The very center of the target is black, whereas the center of ‘Riffing’ is the untouched white of the paper, but both centers evoke an openness to experience that comes with focused contemplation.

Brent: Black lines, dense walls of different thickness activate a plan drawing that has been printed in an edition of four. The optical flows are dimensional and flat, perspectival and plan. Up appears up until you find it down at the bottom as a steeple. Architectural notes are the instruments that open every which way in their read, each time confounding the normal when you are confronted with the unexpected.
With this edition you make each print unique by further going into it.

Jessica: This series, ‘Case Studies 1-4’, I made while doing a residency at Kala Art Institute in digital printmaking.  Two of these will be in my forthcoming show at Jen Bekman Gallery, the other two will be in the show ‘Informal Relations‘ at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, curated by Scott Grow.  I printed the black and white drawing with the intention of painting each one differently, exploring the possibilities in this odd imaginary floor plan. Perhaps I arrived at using gridded dots because they remind me of a computer logic board, which appealed to me.  The pieces became circuit systems that parallel an architectonic substructure, so the forms allude to the imaginary space of the Ethernet and real space of built structures.  And this is where I situate my work, between the imaginary and the real.  I look for a world beyond appearance, a substructure of reality, a delineation of a world full of discontinuity, endless flow, spare diagrammatic tendencies, saturated warmth after cool, and the flux of borders through time axis tides drawing back, discontinuity punctuated by the picture plane, or the tilting smoothness of the surface itself.

Brent: Colored pin heads, all black in a piece entitled ‘Fog City’ 2010; red, green and yellow in another entitled ‘Net’, 2010, function like tiny beacons that punctuate real space while also deploying illusion. An earlier work using string is entitled ‘String Theory. Of course the title is a play on theory and the word. But what about the world these string pieces participate in?

Jessica: Playing with theory, perhaps the best use for it.  String theory may eventually be useful in the discovery of parallel universes, something artists have always explored.  At times this means down the rabbit hole, beyond the black hole, and numerous other imagined or real spaces.  These string drawings are on their way to a very real space in Paris, to the show ‘Touch‘ which you’re curating. So off to Paris – they are exceedingly lucky in that respect.

7 thoughts on “Mutinies and other Strategies – Jessica Snow

  1. That interview was illuminating. Having been a fan of the work for so long it is really edifying to learn about some of the thinking, feeling and imagination that goes into the work. This was a pleasure to read. Thank you.

  2. Well, I have to say I’m in awe: of the work, the dialog here, the ambition and articulate thought. Jessica, you manage to keep so many balls in the air, so much complexity of structure and color, and yet it feels effortless, light and rich. They’re like symphonies, (while I feel like I can handle maybe only a trio.)and reward lots of looking. Amazing stuff! Thanks to you both.

  3. Great interview and illumination of the work and process; thank you for the openness and discussion. I love the “Riffing on Louis’ Point of Tranquility” pieces and discussing music. I saw the MoMA pieces last week and those look great.

  4. A herculean effort to put into words ideas and methods – many thanks to both of you on this.

    Among the things I was noticing while reading…one I continue to come back to is how well those high intensity colors find a balance, either by size or nesting them next to vivid neighbors.

    I was also seeing, (not saying there’s an intended correlation), a similar framework that the Cubists used to pattern a surface, with the shapes near the edges of the panel being larger and gradually becoming smaller towards the center of the painting. I see this in Blue Parts, Structural Adjustment, Architecture’s Internal Logic. You had mentioned enjoying aspects of the Color Field painters, wondering if you also look back to the Cubists?

    Lastly, I’d love to know if you usually paint several pieces employing the same system, i.e. are there several variations of each work?

    Again, thoroughly enjoyed reading this post.

  5. Thank you to Obie, Connie, Mel, Karen and Debra for reading our conversation and for your comments! I appreciate the insightfulness of everyone’s thoughts, and Debra I wanted to answer your question in particular regarding the Cubists. I have never been terribly fond of Analytic cubism, but there are numerous individual examples of interesting work that emerged subsequently. I think Georges Braques in his later years did many wonderful works, especially the illustrations he did for books, such as those of the poet Apollinaire. Here’s an example:

    Working on this interview with Brent was illuminating, a wonderful dialogue, and a very appreciative thank you goes to him for his generosity and hard work!

  6. Okay! Should I daresay that you two marinate in art more than anyone I know. Love those paintings where the background is linen. They are super fresh. Thanks for the superb interview – can’t wait to see more.

  7. Hi Piper,

    Thank you so much! And that means so much coming from you, who knows fresh and super fresh more than anybody. So the highest compliment bouncing back at ya’!

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