Jessica Snow is a San Francisco-based artist whose abstract paintings and drawings are characterized by bright, playful geometrics. Jessica received her BA from UC Davis, her MFA from Mills College, and attended the Sorbonne and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Currently, she teaches painting, drawing and art history at University of San Francisco. Her international exhibition record includes the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Crocker Art Museum, Riverside Art Museum, UCSD Art Museum, Monterey Museum of Art, Paris Concret, Waterland Museum in the Netherlands, the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, the US Embassy in Montevideo and Galleri Urbane in Dallas.
Jessica joins Artadia for a brief discussion about her work. Her joint solo exhibition Badass Color with Anya Spielman has just opened this summer at Le Pavé d’Orsay. Jessica will attend a residency program at the Château d’Orquevaux in 2020.
A: Your recent show ‘Badass Color’ was on view at Le Pavé d’Orsay and was a tribute to the city of Paris. Can you talk about how that came about?
JS: I lived in Paris as a college student, and while studying abroad I came to realize I was going to devote my life to making art. I spent a lot of time in the museums, studying paintings in detail, getting lost in the brushstrokes of the modern masters. Having a show last year in Paris was a way of honoring the city that formed me as a young artist. My friend Anya Spielman, whom I met at UC Davis in one of Thiebaud’s classes, had a similar experience during her time living in Paris as well. We wanted to have a show together as a way to pay tribute to our shared history there, and also to highlight our mutual obsession with color. In the paintings I did for that show, the wandering lines were meant to evoke the experience of wandering through Paris, a contemporary flâneuse taking in the art and architecture of the city one step at a time.
A: You also recently conducted two research trips to Suzhou to study Classical Chinese gardens, calligraphy and ink-wash paintings. What inspired that trip? And how has it come to inform your work?
JS: I was teaching one summer a few years ago at Qingdao University —I was invited to teach art history as part of their international program, and before my classes started my boyfriend Paul Morrill and I traveled to Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou. I was mesmerized by Suzhou with its numerous classical gardens, and I completed part of my performance drawing piece ‘Borrowed Scenery’ in the stunning Master of the Nets Garden. Paul videotaped me doing that work, both there and in other locales in China, and later we made a short film about it. Borrowed Scenery is a landscape gardening term used to describe the incorporation of a view into a garden with various framing devices, and I used this as my title because I ‘borrowed’ China’s scenery for the works on paper I made there.
Back in the states, I did a series of paintings which I titled ‘Master of the Nets’ , referencing the same Song dynasty garden. The name refers to a fisherman, a revered figure in Daoist philosophy who symbolizes oneness with nature. While painting, I imagined myself as a fisherman, metaphorically throwing the nets down deep, but in my case pulling up memories of the garden, undoubtedly intertwined with other psychic material, as inspiration for that body of work.
A: In the past you’ve mentioned that the bright, playful geometric forms in your paintings explore the tension between order and chaos, logic and emotion. Can you speak a little on this? And does this continue to be central to your work?
JS: The dynamic created through the play of opposing forces is something that seems to happen on an intuitive level. I’m not consciously thinking about it, but these factors —order, chaos, logic, and emotion, are always coming into play in my work. Mondrian spoke about achieving a dynamic equilibrium within his work, in which opposing forces are reconciled. I’m speaking about a similar idea here, in which unity is created in a painting through the synthesis of these oppositions. I plan out my compositions and color choices, but then allow that plan to break down —I tend to throw in a monkey wrench in order to avoid predictability.
A: You received the Artadia Award in 2000. Could you talk a little bit about what you were working on at that time?
JS: I was doing works of a more ephemeral nature, temporary wall installations in which I’d paint fields of color and then overlay map pins and embroidery thread to create lines. I also incorporated drawings and shaped-paper forms, making a sort of large-scale collage. During that time, I was also thinking about how I was going to balance motherhood and making art —my daughter Zoe was born in 2001. Eventually I found that you just carve out the time on a day to day basis —a schedule can help, but compromise just becomes a part of life. My work changed as a result of this, because I no longer had the time to dive into a painting without a plan. I started working from studies which happily resulted in my paintings having more clarity. A recent article in the New York Times, ‘Can a Woman Who Is an Artist Ever Just Be an Artist’ looks at the question of whether it’s possible to separate female gender identity and motherhood from being an artist. Complex questions about creativity and gender are raised in the article, and the answers are probably different for every artist.
A: Can you talk about how your work has changed since 2000?
JS: I think the most apparent change is that I began to work in series. This way of working helped me to stay focused on an idea and explore the various permutations of it without leaving off too quickly to start something new. I had a tendency to move from one thing to another, so working in series opens new possibilities —the sustained attention has allowed me to create paintings that mine deeper and unexpected veins, all the while working from a consistent starting point.
Additionally, my work has become more researched-based over the years. I mentioned landscape architecture, especially the gardens of Suzhou, but my research into the architecture of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe fed my ‘Angular Rhythm’ and ‘Folds in Time’ series. The graphic notations of John Cage were also an influence at that time. So in a number of those works the relationship between architecture and music came into play —the forms demarcate intervals in which negative space is bracketed to establish rhythmic movement.
A: Are there any artists or art exhibitions that have resonated with you lately or have been of particular interest?
JS: I’ve always been engaged with art history, to the point one might accuse me of living in the past! I teach modern art history at the University of San Francisco, and I’m always incorporating my research into my lectures. But to answer specifically, this year for the first time I visited La Chapelle Rosaire in Vence, designed by Matisse. The wall paintings done on large ceramic tiles are extraordinary —one really has to see the chapel in person to get the fullness of feeling they convey. I’m excited to return to France to do a residency at the Château d’Orquevaux in 2020. I’ll be very close to Ronchamp, so I plan to spend time drawing at Colline Notre-Dame du Haut, designed by Le Corbusier. Stay tuned to see how this develops!
Jessica’s biography and all images courtesy of the artist, Kevin Todora, and Paul Morrill.
Jessica Snow, ‘Terra Incognita’ series at Le Pavé d’Orsay, Paris, 2019
Jessica Snow, ‘Terra Incognita’ series at Le Pavé d’Orsay, Paris, 2019
Jessica Snow working on her ‘Borrowed Scenery’ series at the Master of the Nets Garden, Suzhou, China, 2017 (Photo: Paul Morrill)
Jessica Snow, from the ‘Master of the Nets’ series, digital collage, 2018
Jessica Snow, ‘Master of the Nets #11’ at Galleri Urbane, Dallas, 2018 (Photo: Kevin Todora)
Jessica Snow, ‘Master of the Nets’ series at Galleri Urbane, Dallas, 2018 (Photo: Kevin Todora)
Jessica Snow, ‘Eccentricity of the Middle Ground’, installation at 4 walls artspace, San Francisco, 1999
Jessica Snow, ‘Refraction in the Line of Sight’, part of the ‘Angular Rhythm’ series, installation at Galleri Urbane, Dallas, 2015 (Photo: Kevin Todora)
Jessica Snow, 28 Parallelograms, Acrylic on Arches 300 lb. Hot Press paper, 14.3″ h x 11.5″w, 2015
Jessica Snow, Borrowed Scenery #7, Watercolor on Arches 300lb. rough paper, 25″h x 20″w, 2017
Jessica Snow at her studio in San Francisco, 2019