Paul Snell’s works seduce and envelop us. In Bleed, Snell takes a soft-edged approach to the colour field rather than the hard-edge aesthetic of his works from the past decade. Playing with appropriated visual imagery to create abstractions that explore the potential of photo-media, some works explore a single or related group of hues, such as a soft fairy floss pink or a harmony of turquoises. In other works, contrasting colours swirl and bleed together, forming tantalising compositions that compel the viewer to search the surface for narrative answers which remain elusive.
While Snell has previously employed glossy surfaces, inviting viewers to reflect on the ubiquity of screen culture, the matte finish used in the Bleed series absorbs rather than reflects light. The photographic image is face-mounted to Matte Plexiglas, embedding colour in the object itself. The viewer is drawn into the image, yet the diffused tonality of the photograph prevents our eye from getting a secure hold on the composition. The resulting experience is a slow push-pull between image and viewer.
Long interested in non-objective works that embrace object-hood, Snell has recently been applying this to his own practice in an increasingly overt fashion, developing sculptural substrata for his Chromogenic prints. These gnarled, distressed elements, the result of experimentation with chemical reactions on polystyrene and painted and poured concrete, lurk behind the Plexiglas surface. While the photographic images employ bright and pure tonalities, the substrata bear the colours of rusted and oxidised metals. These gritty, crusty components challenge the seductively liquid surfaces of the works – each heightens the experience of the other and evokes further associations, from the microscopic to the macrocosmic.
Snell shares the aesthetic and conceptual concerns of 20th century modernist painters, while taking the 21st century digital image as a material starting point. Bleed explores and exploits the emotive and evocative effects of colour, both in an ocular sense and a physical one – as we stand in front of these works, our eyes seeking an entry point to the abstract and minimalist compositions, the matte surfaces absorb light and seem to absorb us as well.
In the course of developing this body of work, Snell came across the term longing for less, a reaction to the relentless inundation of imagery in the current era. “’Longing for less’ resonated in terms of breaking down this imagery and creating voids, spaces, moments in time, shifts and places for people to sit, contemplate and just lose themselves in the colours.” In introducing the sculptural bases for the works in Bleed, Snell brings this potential of the pixel into sharp (or in this case, soft) relief.
Chloé Wolifson, July 2020
Paul Snell’s exhibition Bleed took place at Gallery 9, Sydney from 15 July – 08 August 2020. The exhibition text above accompanied the exhibition and can also be heard in the above video tour.