Arryn Snowball: Mobbed by clouds. Nancy Sever Gallery, Gorman House Arts Centre, 55 Ainslie Ave, Braddon. Closes. March 17. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am - 5pm.
There is a profound lyricism in the work of Arryn Snowball. His paintings are deceptively simple, unengaging, yet at the same time demanding attention – enigmas that seem to get under your skin.
Snowball writes beautifully about his theory of art making, “As the paintings build up around me in the studio they start to gather associations. They find titles for themselves from the poems. Paintings are vessels for meaning. Like a bowl, they want to fill up with things no matter how much you empty them out. It seems the emptier a painting is, the greater the size of the metaphors that come to rest in it.”
The reference to poems is to the work of the interesting Queensland poet Nathan Shepherdson, the son of the great painter Gordon Shepherdson – an artist whom I frequently associate with various forms of aquatic imagery. Snowball has been collaborating for several years with Nathan Shepherdson on a project called ‘Slack Water’ relating to the Pacific Ocean. The poet had written a large series of poems inspired by Grant’s Guide to Fishes: The fisherman’s bible, Ern Grant’s evergreen classic on fish identification in Australia.
Snowball has allowed the poet’s verbal games to flow through his body and emerge as text-based or non-figurative paintings. Many of these paintings play with triangular shapes, which build into patterns suggesting arrows penetrating the surface of water as in the magnificent and sonorous blue painting Going deep. Others, in the Scattered surface series, seem to reverse the order as if swimming under the water and breaking through the surface and emerging into the light. Structurally, at first glance, they are quite simple, even understated paintings, but once you penetrate the surface there is considerable complexity and subtle variation.
The ‘text paintings’ employ words drawn from Shepherdson’s verse – such as “Ankle deep”, “Driven to the surface”, “Mobbed by clouds” and “Steadily expanding editions of time”. The shape of the letters and the form of the words become like abstract emblems from which compositions seem to develop organically creating different associations through colour and form.
Transfixed by this impressive exhibition of paintings, all oil and tempera on linen, for some inexplicable reason I kept on thinking of an aphorism by the American minimalist artist Brice Marden. “Working on these paintings, there's always an idea which is an ideal. It's always impossible... But I think every time, maybe, I just get closer to some impossible thing…”
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