Marty Schnapf: Fissures in the Fold
At Wilding Cran Gallery Los Angeles (Through March 10, 2018)
Reviewed by Emily Nimptsch
Multi-layered in both the composition and psychology, Los Angeles-based multimedia artist Marty Schnapf’s latest historically inspired yet wildly inventive oil and charcoal paintings, currently on view at LA’s Wilding Cran Gallery, dive into themes of the subconscious while boasting extensive allusions to parallel realities, Abstract Expressionism, as well as Pablo Picasso’s celebrated cubist period.
Titled Fissures in the Fold, this series heavily features contorted nude figures. With the twisted, angular poses and ubiquitous stray arms and legs seen here, the human body is deconstructed and the viewer is often left unsure about which limbs belong to which figure. Upon first glance, this ambiguity echoes Picasso in the way he famously captured multiple points of view on the same canvas. While he and other cubists were greatly influenced by the rapid scientific and technological advancements of the age in this aesthetic, Schnapf’s fragmented reality is actually an homage to the most advanced scientific thinking of our age. The artist explains, “…contemporary theories of the multiverse, holography, and simulation theory play into my paintings…In my works, the figures are not just painted from different perspectives, but in different potentialities of the same instant.” So, instead of seeing many different views of the same subject, Schnapf is attempting to capture many different possibilities for these characters, all based on what they decide to do. Hanging in the air like spectres or apparitions, these alternate universes offer a fascinating look at what could be. Never noticed by the subjects themselves, these overlapping possibilities point out the fragility of our perceived reality. Perhaps the show’s title is a reference to this fracturing of our current worldview.
Interestingly, the influence of cubist Picasso shows up again in this collection through the symbol of the mask. Schnapf reveals that while the iconic Spanish artist’s use of this African art object is meant to refer to the “fear of the unknown, and, ultimately, their fear of death…I’m more interested in the internality of the mask, the mask as portal. The wearer of a ritual mask does not disguise herself. She opens herself. She becomes a vessel for the arrival of an otherwise non-physical entity and she offers herself as conduit for that being’s movement and message.” Although the majority of the paintings here feature subjects with stiff, geometric faces, we can see this mask-like face clearly in one of Fissure’s highlights, Will-o’-the-wisp (2017). Like Édouard Manet’s Olympia, here we see a nude woman stare down the viewer with haunting intensity as she completely owns her sexuality. Although her face is rigid and mask-like, she is not hiding, she is completely open and exposed with her body and connection to the subconscious on full display. Further solidifying this sense of eternity and boundlessness, even the woman’s genitalia, breasts, and sunglasses are rendered in the shape of the infinity sign.
Building on this reference to elevated consciousness, water is another fascinating spiritual motif in this exhibition. Several of the paintings featured here, including Tedium of Exceptional Events (2017), At the Midnight Hour (2017), Heroes and Villains (2017), What the Wind Carries (2017), and Two Hands Walking (2017) take place in swimming pools or other bodies of water. In Tedium, we again see these familiar overlapping forms. Glimpses of the pool, a nude female figure, perhaps an alternate version of her on a boat, and colorful explosions of Jackson Pollock-esque abstract drips all fight for our attention here.
What possible meaning can we glean from the waters seen here? Are they a reference to Freudian ideas about the subconscious and sexuality? Schnapf believes so, revealing that, “the pool is the source from which whatever expresses itself through the mask, arises. I primarily work with dissociative locations wherein standard modes of behavior and experiences of time are altered and a heightened reality pervades. Beds, dance floors, swimming pools, places of worship, outer space, galleries and the unconscious. Each implies the other. The sex is the dance is the dive is the prayer is the flight is the art is the dream.” Coming away from this show, the viewer does start to better understand and appreciate this fluid connection between spirituality, sensuality, and creativity.
Perhaps mirroring the reflectivity and transparency of the show’s subconscious waters, eyeglasses also seem to be everywhere in Fissures. Whether in the form of sunglasses, reading glasses, or snorkel masks, the viewer can see multiple sets of eyes depicted in nearly every painting here. Always mysterious and alluring, these glasses and eyes can be found in a variety of different positions on the head, possibly referencing the multiple sets of “I’s” or “me’s” in this collection in regards to parallel universes.
With a tremendous interest in visual harmony and symbolic resonance, Marty Schnapf’s Fissures in the Fold is an eye-opening investigation into the deepest realms of the human psyche. Plunging into avant-garde notions of spirituality, science, and sensual desires, this series urges the viewer to consider the relationship between the self, sex, and the subconscious. While these endeavors may seem daunting and serious, here Schnapf infuses these notions with a rare sense of playfulness which makes this journey engaging, amusing, and delightful.
Emily Nimptsch is Los Angeles Art Critic for Riot Material magazine. Ms. Nimptsch is also a freelance arts and culture writer who has written for Flaunt, ArtSlant, Artillery, ArteFuse, and Time Out Los Angeles.