Advisor: Barry Schwabsky
Group 3 – Paper 3
5 October 2010
"The grid is an emblem of modernity by being just that: the form that is ubiquitous in the art of our century....." – Rosalind E. Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths
Development of the grid in the work of Louise Fishman and Joan Snyder
In her 1978 essay, "Grids," Rosalind Krauss puzzles over the ubiquity of the grid in modern art, saying, “It is not just the sheer number of careers that have been devoted to the exploration of the grid that is impressive, but the fact that never could exploration have chosen less fertile ground. As the experience of Mondrian amply demonstrates, development is precisely what the grid resists (Krauss 9).”
Though the grid may “resist” development, it has proven to be productive ground for artists who have used the grid as a structure and as a convention to adapt to their own expressive requirements. Louise Fishman and Joan Snyder are two artists who have used the grid extensively over the course of their careers in ways that demonstrate the developmental and narrative potential of the grid.
Fishman and Snyder were born a year apart in 1939 and 1940 respectively and both came of age artistically during the in the late 1960s and 1970s. Fishman completed an MFA in 1965 and Snyder in 1966. They each moved to New York and were greatly influenced by New York School Abstract Expressionist and Minimalist trends.
The late 1960s and early 1970s, when Fishman and Snyder were finding their “voices” as painters, critical attention was primarily focused on minimalism and conceptual art – painting had been declared “dead” (Cohen). At the same time, both artists were active in the feminist groups, and were looking for new vocabularies and experimenting with alternative materials (David Cohen).
Although Fishman was strongly influence by the Abstract Expressionist who immediately preceded her, in the 1960s her work was primarily grid-based, influenced in part by Minimalists such as Sol Lewitt, and she was linked with Pattern paintings. But by 1970, she was looking for a new vocabulary that was outside of what she saw as the male-dominated minimalist structure.
By 1970 she was cutting up her grid paintings and reconstruction them “into works that sometimes assumed the form of wordless, stitched-and-stapled canvas books; or sometimes she would punch holes in the canvas and thread rope through the holes to create a tactile grid (Deitcher).” An example of this type of work is Fishman’s “Untitled” of 1971 (fig. 1).
Fig. 1 Louise Fishman, "Untitled", 1971 ©Louise Fishman.
In this piece, Fishman subverts the notion of the hard-edged grid by joining together strips of unevenly edged, acrylic-coated canvas. Rather than creating a grid structure in paint on the canvas surface, she has loosely sewn a raw, uneven grid using string. The work becomes an object resembling a book, or quilt. At the same time, this work displays many of the elements that her later gestural abstract paintings would show. Although roughly and imprecisely cut, the canvas strips are subtly organized in gradations of blues and grays, which create a sense of varying spatial depths. Where the strips meet, shadows of at the edges create a vertical linear grid. The brownish string overlays the canvas strips in a horizontal pattern, with knots connecting the strips at regular intervals. Both the linear element of the string in front of the canvas, and the color relationships of the cool receding strips and the warmer string/line on top creates another layer of space.
During this same time period, Joan Snyder was also reconsidering her relationship to minimalism and expressionism through the grid (Bui). In a Brooklyn Museum online biography, Snyder is quoted as saying, “I was slowly developing a language with which I could speak and communicate....I remember wanting more from Color Field painting and not being moved by Minimal art, which was mostly sculpture at the time. These were the works I was challenging--to have more in a painting, not less; to show the anatomy of a painting, the different layers as it was being made, the process (Brooklyn Museum).”
Although like Fishman, Snyder was reacting to the trends of that time [it was “in the air”, she said (Bui)], Snyder describes how her use of the grid came out her work as a teacher, seeing the children’s painting on lined paper, and an epiphany she had looking at how her paint had formed drips on the tongue and groove wall in her studio (Bui) . “...So I started incorporating the drips on the grids....But it was a structure for me to either destroy on the way to making the painting or stay within like a musical staff, providing order (Bui)”
Fig. 2 Joan Snyder, "Summer Orange", 1970, oil, acrylic, and spray enamel on canvas, 42" x 96, ©Joan Snyder
The result of her explorations were her early stroke paintings on a gridded surface, such as Summer Orange (1970). In this painting, the underlying horizontal
grid is visible. On top of the grid, Snyder lays out lush, vibrant strokes of varying shades of orange, red, yellow and purple. Drips are allowed to transgress the borders of the lines in which the stroke lays. The strokes are also organized in four vertical groupings, each with its own character and energy, determined by color, length and integrity of the stroke, and adherence or deviation from the horizontal.
In the essay “Joan Snyder: The Geography of the Surface”, Jenni Sorkin writes, “While seemingly resistant to Minimalism, Snyder’s incorporation of the grid belies an interest in the placement of a framing device within her compositions....What began as an intervention has evolved into a signature inclusion (Herrera 64).” Following the stroke paintings, Snyder continued to develop and play with the grid, using it as an armature on which to include more and more varied strokes and materials. In a recent painting like Brooklyn 2010, though the grid is still sensed compositionally, as are the strokes, the materiality of the surface has taken over, and the grid structure is filled with paint, found plant materials, and fabrics.
Fig. 3 Joan Snyder, "Brooklyn 2010", 2010. acrylic, pastel, burlap, fabric, herbs, rosebuds on linen, 54" x 72", ©Joan Snyder
Fishman, like Snyder, continued to use the grid as an armature when she returned to gestural abstract painting in the 1980s. In a 2002 LA Times interview, Fishman said, "As soon as it became clear I had gone through that evolution, I decided to use the materials and techniques that I had rejected....I invented painting again in its classical form. I decided I wanted to embrace it. I got yards of fresh linen and had it stretched. I allowed myself to immerse myself in the beauty of oil paint. It was very exciting for me. (Drohojowski-Philp)". In Fishman’s later work, the grid is covered, intersected, troweled over, and overlaid with gestural calligraphic marks. Yet, in spite of the density of the paint and multiple layers, a space is created by the overlaying of marks and push-pull of warm and cool colors, for example in the 2008 painting, Gorgeous Green.
Fig. 4. Louise Fishman, "Gorgeous Green", 2008, oil on jute, 24.25"x32", ©Louise Fishman.
Although both Snyder and Fishman may have initially explored the grid in a reaction to minimalist art of their early career, each have made the language of the grid their own, expanding upon its possibilities, and asserting it or suppressing it as required by the needs of their painting. Both artists adopted the grid as a way to respond to the abstract art that immediately preceded them and the painting that was happening at the time they were developing their own voices and vocabularies in the 1960s and 1970s. The adoption of the grid, a traditional modernist structure, allowed each artist an armature which propelled their thinking about painting process, materials, and history. Rather than impeding their development, or locking them into stagnant repetition, Snyder and Fishman continue to explore and expand the ways their process and materials interact with the grid structure both have relied upon throughout their careers.
Brooklyn Museum. Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Louise Fishman. Biographical entry.
Bui, Phong. “In Conversation: Joan Snyder with Phong Bui.” The Brooklyn Rail. Sept. 2008. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.
Butler, Sharon. “ArtSeen: Louise Fishman.” The Brooklyn Rail. May 2009. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.
Brooklyn Museum, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Joan Snyder. Web. 30 Sept. 2010.
Cohen, Cora. “Louise Fishman.” Bomb 37, Fall 1991. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.
Cohen, David. "High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting, 1967-1975." Art Critical.15 February 2007. (version appeared in the New York Sun, 15 Feb 2007 under title “Painting When Painting Was Dead”. Exhibit at the National Academy Museum, New York, February 15-April 22, 2007. (accessed 9/30/10.)
Deitcher, David. “Vitruvian Woman.” Web. 29 September 2010.
Drohojowski-Philp, Hunter. “On a Journey Begun Again Many Times: Louise Fishman's work has long mirrored her evolving political and spiritual outlook.” Los Angeles Times. 14 April 2002. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.
Herrera, Hayden. Joan Snyder. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2005. Print.
Krauss, Rosalind E. The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths. Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 1985. Print.