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The Joy of Seeing

The sharpness and clarity of Snee's work is reminiscent of the Californian 'hard-edge' abstract painters of the 1960s and '70s, who, like Snee, drew on the early work of Malevich, Kandinsky and Mondrian. Snee also acknowleges Picasso, Klee, Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus.

But Gordon Snee is not concerned with pure abstraction. Instead, he occupies a peculiarly British space, in between abstraction and figuration. In this sense, he is part of a rich current of post-war art led by Moore and Hepworth but including many others whose work is now enjoying late recognition, including Gillian Ayres, Bryan Wynter, William Scott and Roger Hilton.

Even among these artists, Snee is unusual. Although his pictures are clearly informed by the physical world, only a few invite a reading or imply a narrative. Most works seem to evoke an intermediate mental picture in which the moving light and raw colour entering the eye have only been partially interpreted. The brain has sorted its visual field into layered planes and dynamic forms, recognising some as organic, or mechanical, possibly landscape elements, possibly human figures or faces, but the mind has not yet finally resolved what confronts it into an array of nameable objects.

The effect on the viewer is that our emotional associations with familiar things ("potato crisp, daisyhead, fingerprint, nipple") are not triggered. Instead, Snee engages us with the pure act of seeing, and invites us to relish the joy of it.

Snee liked to "create the air of an unsolved mystery" (these quotations are from his notebooks). A picture might suggest soft, rolling, English landscapes, emotionally-rich human faces, primitive sex forms, shells, skulls, towers, machines or buildings, and the viewer is invited to see all or none of these, but with no suggestion there is a single hidden 'solution'.

Snee's colours are rich and confident. Sometimes he uses bold, even cartoon-like primaries; at others he deploys a more muted, subtle palette. He claimed he could make any colour go with any other, and his work shows this was no idle boast.

The Joy of Seeing: this was Snee's life-long obsession, and he developed his own unique idiom, 'Natural Abstraction', to explore it. He created a body of work that is assured, vibrant, serious but not solemn, at times comic, usually optimistic and always accessible.

#technique #abstraction #painting