Marty Schnapf: Traveling Through Time
To disappear into deep water or to disappear toward a far horizon, to become part of the depth of infinity, such is the destiny of man that finds its image in the destiny of water.Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
Written by Gary Brewer
We experience the world in fragments that are instantly stitched together into coherent wholes. Sounds, sensations of touch, taste and scent: the myriad objects and the spaces containing them, all flow through our senses into our conscious mind, which seamlessly organizes this onslaught of information into an understandable unity. Simultaneously, our subjective world responds to these moments with the infinite range of emotions contained in an individual soul: joy, fear, safety or alarm, longing and desire, wonder and curiosity. The theater of our inner world shifts, as the world we move through changes from one state to another. It is a phenomenon that we take for granted- yet it is truly a miraculous feat.
In the paintings of Marty Schnapf, he attempts to capture a glimpse of this subjective world that shape-shifts in transitory moments and fleeting emotions. Schnapf said of his work, “ My paintings have something to do with time. We experience multiple subjective moments simultaneously- maybe not moments so much as movements- movements of memory, anticipation, and emotion that we carry within our bodies and minds. We may be walking forward in space, but inside we are pulling back. These are not a series of objective views of the same object as in cubism- depicting a sense of time in an empirical sense; but the stream of our emotional life incessantly unfolding as we move through time and space.”
In his paintings, fragmented figures coalesce into new wholes within spaces that flicker between landscape and architecture. There is a grace to these stylized expressions of the human form- they are elegant and expressive, idiosyncratic and emotive.
Schnapf worked for years as a producer and director collaborating at different times with choreographers, musicians, architects, DJ’s and hackers, creating relational aesthetic works that extended beyond the specific time and space of the physical event and moved through the cyberverse on various platforms: free to roam the world.
In his paintings, one can sense the influence of modern dance and performance in the heightened emotional gestures within the figures: the hands grasping; the passionate embrace; all fractured to suggest ambiguous associations. The expressive hand gestures and internal subjective physicality in the figures within his paintings brings to mind the dance movements of a choreographer like Pina Bausch.
There is a classical grandeur to some of his figures, where stillness and movement are arrested, held within the tension of stasis and kinesis. We spoke about Piero dela Francesca whose classical calm is wrought from the internal geometry of his figures, cloaked within the sublime pageantry of the human forms, all integrated within the sacred geometry of the architecture. Schnapf said, “I want my work to travel through time, to connect with other painters from the rich history of art. To see the influence of Giotto, dela Francesca, as well as 20th century abstraction and other moments from the history of art coming through my paintings, is deeply satisfying.” It is a love for everything from dance, theater, music, literature, poetry, and painting: it is life’s rich pageant flowing freely through the process of painting that Schnapf seeks to express, holding these moments in an imaginary theater of human drama. His paintings are a collection of intimate experiences of hands touching hands, figures embracing or gazing into a pool of water.
“I don’t affix a specific meaning to any of my paintings or the symbolic forms that they open up in the mind of the viewer. I use water in almost all of my paintings. It can be clear or opaque, moving or still, a reflection or a mirror. It is a metaphor that reaches back to antiquity. It always seems to find its way in.”
We spoke about surrealism and discussed whether he felt a connection with that work. “In some ways I do: I have vivid dreams and though I do not try to paint the images from these dreams, I do try to capture their logic- how in a dream, a form, a person or the space you are within, can instantly change, and there is no conflict- you fluidly accept these transitions and transformations. A figure may have multiple hands, or may disappear into the emergence of another figure, but through painting I can resolve the image, no matter how nonsensical, into an coherent whole where one believes it: in that sense there is a dream logic to my paintings.”
In the painting Double Rescue, the lower half, legs and torsos of two figures stand in a pool of blue water. In the upper half of the painting, above the pools edge, multiple hands and arms repeat, in a rhythmic cadence along the horizontal edge of the pool. A sleeping figure whose face is doubled, rests, eyes closed; a dreamer weaving a world together. Two large hands seem to embrace and hold the sleeping muses in a tender protective gesture. Another assemblage of a bodily fragments: torso, foot and arm, hover above these elements. There is a range of painterly techniques that add rich surface qualities to the painting and nuance the spatial depth of the image. The materiality of the paint as an abstract surface quality and the illusion of spatial depth, oscillate between the delicate and the roughhewn. The abstract design of the piece- the luminous blues and rich surface of the background with black bands delineating the spatial perspective of the pool, are stark and graphic. The punch of positive and negative space anchors the complexity of the figurative elements, creating a gestalt of abstract unity. It is a feat of a very fine painter indeed to utilize these various forces to captivate and engage the viewer and entice them to enter the subjective poetry of the fragments of human forms dancing on the periphery of our understanding, using dream logic to beguile and enchant.
The painting Sleight of Hand contains a kneeling figure whose elegant grace fills the canvas. He rests on one knee above a pool of water that mirrors his body in its reflection. The background is painted in lush luminous colors whose cloud-like vaporous transitions obscure the figure’s head, leaving only a disembodied eye, floating in the sky beyond. One hand reaches out into the space before him, another gently stirs the water of the pool. In the water’s reflection, the figure is doubled, shifting like someone who has double vision. Maybe the figure is drunk like Narcissus, intoxicated by his own image.
There is a mythical quality to these works: they have the formal power to hold you in the stillness of classical form- governing the emotional tone of the painting- but a slippery instability breaks their solidity. The center does not hold, our beliefs and the ground under our feet move with the geological tectonic forces of life’s mercurial whims. Our emotions flow like clouds and water and so do these intoxicating paintings of Marty Schnapf.
Painting is a surreal dream of endless possibilities. Each soul born into a particular point in time and space, responds to the world they inhabit. With tools made from animal hair and wood, seed oil and earth, artists metamorphose these base elements into the dream reflections of a life lived in the slipstream of time. It is a need for language as an extension of memory and imagination that leaves a path; like stars linked to become mythic figures. We leave marks as memory traces to tell the stories of our lives.