You Should Be Dancing 

The magical movements of artist Joan Snyder.

click to enlarge Joan Snyder's "Madrigal X," from 2001, showcases the artist's vibrant use of color. A new exhibit at the University of Richmond's Harnett Museum is the most comprehensive overview of Snyder's work to date.
  • Joan Snyder's "Madrigal X," from 2001, showcases the artist's vibrant use of color. A new exhibit at the University of Richmond's Harnett Museum is the most comprehensive overview of Snyder's work to date.

A retrospective of an accomplished artist's work often can be a master class for younger artists seeking to understand the arc of a career.

"Dancing with the Dark: Joan Snyder Prints 1963-2010" traces the development of Snyder's creative spirit, from her earliest portrait and landscape woodcuts to midcareer prints combining expressionism and abstraction to the deeply personal imagery of her later years. The show, the largest retrospective to date of the New Jersey native's work, opens in the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art at the University of Richmond on Jan. 24.

Snyder's art always has been autobiographical, and her prints and paintings explore and reveal her emotions, both negative and positive. That willingness to reveal herself, to explore aspects of identity and humanity, has caused Snyder to be labeled a feminist artist, a tag with which she begs to differ.

"I don't like labels," Snyder says. "I am an artist and I am a feminist. And a lot of other things too. Does this make me a feminist artist? Do we have labels for male artists? Given the content of some of my work, one could say that I'm a feminist artist. I have actually tried so many times to get people, including people writing about my work, to not label me. I've given up trying."

The vibrant colors, palpable energy and use of words and poems scattered throughout have been interpreted as a visual diary of the artist's life. The more than 60 works in this show demonstrate that it's been a life well documented.

It is her background as a painter that comes through in the execution of highly textural prints with painterly applications of vivid colors. The artist isn't shy about her devotion to the art form.

"I love making prints," Snyder says. "I love carving into wood or etching deep lines into a metal plate and then inking up the woodblock or plate, running it through the press and being surprised every time by what transpires, what impressions are made. More often than not I combine techniques: woodcut, etching, lithography and at times digital imaging, all onto the same print.

Then the real magic happens as different plates fall together onto one piece of paper, making one complicated print. Printmaking also is another way to draw, allowing for all sorts of marks and lines, some deeper than others.

"Making prints is magical for me," she says. Visitors to the exhibit will see that passion throughout, but it's distilled down to its essence in "My Work ... 1997," a five-color etching with color woodcut in which a scattering of words surround a central heart-shaped form above the declaration, "My work has been absolutely faithful to me." S

"Dancing with the Dark: Joan Snyder Prints 1963-2010" opens Jan. 23 with a lecture, "Artist and Curator: A Conversation," at the Modlin Center at 7 p.m. and a viewing of the exhibition at 8 p.m. in the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art at the University of Richmond. Information at museum.richmond.edu.

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