Joan Snyder Biography

Joan Snyder




Sculptor, painter, assemblage-artist, and printmaker Joan Snyder was born in Highland Park, New Jersey, in 1940. Born to Russian-German Jewish parents, she attended Hebrew School at a reform Temple as a child. She enrolled at Douglass College in New Brunswick in 1958, graduating with a BA in sociology in 1962 with the intent of becoming a social worker. While in her senior year, she took a course in painting. Her professor encouraged her to study the works of German Expressionists--of particular note to Snyder at the time being the work of Aleksey von Jawlensky—and changed her goal. Upon graduation, she enrolled at Rutgers University, where she received her Masters of Fine Arts degree in 1966.

In addition to Expressionism, Snyder’s work is influenced by politics, feminism, and daily life. She began creating work reminiscent of the style of Emil Nolde, with bold, improvised lines, in 1963. Living on a farm along the Raritan River at the time, her subjects were often landscapes and portraits of friends and family. However, she soon abandoned representational work altogether. Said Snyder in an interview with artist Phong Bui in 2008, ‘…after earning my MFA in 1966 I went to Europe and while I was there I fell apart. I sat in parks in Belgium all day, drew, stared into space and felt totally lost. I came back, and looked at my expressionistic landscape paintings and realized that I wanted to make paintings that had the same feeling that these paintings had but without the content, without the barns, without the houses. I also wanted them to have the same broken feeling that I was experiencing at the time. I remember very specifically saying to myself, “I’m making strokes that are very broken apart,” without realizing how abstract it was. I made one, for example, called “Stroke Landscape” with the sky painted a flat pink color covering the top half of the picture plane and in the field below were separate strokes on a tan and white ground. The impulse to work in this new way was very strong.'

By the early 1970s she had established herself as a “stroke” painter, in which gestural lines are drawn over a gridded background. Her first solo exhibitions followed this breakthrough, and her work was selected for the Whitney Annual (1972), the Whitney Biennial (1973), and the Corcoran Biennial (1975). Through the mid-1970s her focus remained on this style of abstraction, with some influence from the Minimalist movement of the time. Though she returned to a style that incorporated narrative and symbolic qualities, this kind of abstraction remains a facet of her style to this day.

In 1971,  Snyder founded the Mary H. Dana Artist Series, a continuous exhibition of women artists first established at the Mabel Smith Douglass Library, which continues to this day in partnership with Rutgers. She received a National Endowment for the Arts Award in 1974 and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 1983. In 2005 the Jewish Museum in New York presented a thirty-five year retrospective of her work.