Fall 2016 - 1st Session Live auction
Lot # 014
Michael James Aleck Snow
OC RCA 1928 - Canadian
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1962 and on verso titled on the Isaacs Gallery label
64 1/2 x 66 1/2 in 163.8 x 168.9cm
The Isaacs Gallery Ltd., Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
By descent to the present Private Collection, Israel
Robert Enright, “The Lord of Missed Rules: An Interview with Michael Snow,” Border Crossings 102, May 2007, http://bordercrossingsmag.com/article/the-lord-of-missed-rules-an-interview-with-michael-snow, accessed August 2016
While the term “iconic” is overused in the cultural sphere today, we can restore its power by thinking of Michael Snow’s Walking Woman images—a remarkably various series that was his artistic focus from 1961 to 1967, when he lived in New York City. They are secular icons in Snow’s extensive oeuvre, in Canadian culture, and internationally. Arguably the most influential living Canadian artist, Snow is himself an icon of artistic innovation, reinvention and integrity.
“I do not have a system, I am a system,” Snow asserted in a 2007 interview. Walking Woman works such as Airway are the basis for this self-description. The simple cut-out silhouette appears in about 200 of his works; she was systematically deployed in exhibitions at the fabled Isaacs Gallery in Toronto in the early 1960s and in sculptural form at Expo 67 in Montreal, in films, photographs, and in paintings such as Airway. Like many in the art world in the early 1960s, Snow was preoccupied by abstract painting—in his case, especially that of Willem de Kooning. Snow also wanted to play with the figure, but not in traditional, naturalistic ways. He made a large cardboard cut-out of the shape we know as Walking Woman and placed it on a gallery wall, using the support’s colour and texture as part of the image. He realized that his stencil allowed him to reproduce the figure endlessly and anywhere. His icon could walk out of the expected art contexts and into popular consciousness.
Airway alludes to Snow’s experiments with 1960s abstraction in its substantial scale, its expanses of open, gestural colour, in the use of commercial aluminum paint for the left-hand figure (which he had also used in Lac Clair, 1960, a painting in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada), and in its playful yet carefully articulated arrangements of both positive and negative versions of the cut-out. This form is taken apart more than usual in the series, which sets up a visual game for viewers as they try to reconstruct a full image of the entire form. The left-hand outline, for example, shows the woman’s right leg in profile as a positive shape. In the third partial figure at the right, however, we see the same shape as a negative form and outlined in a different colour.
The bold central shape shows the right leg and thus establishes left-to-right walking motion, but it in no obvious way provides a logical transition from the silver figure on its left to the blue one on the right. Instead of resolving to a static final form, Snow’s “system” generates new shapes. These are again both positive (the first black form encountered as we move left to right, which is both abstract and part of the negative female form), and negative (for example, the “oceanic” spaces adjacent to the central “continent”). It is in these respects that Snow’s Airway is “formal.”
Airway purposefully contains the forms that make up the Walking Woman as an image. Her anatomy is doubly bounded, first by the multiple coloured outlines that define these shapes, and of course by this large canvas’s own frame. In the 1960s, painting was largely about this sort of control and formal play. Snow, however, proceeded to set up a conversation between painting and other, more expansive media. The Walking Woman was soon to be the star of his film New York Eye and Ear Control of 1964.
We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto and author of Postmodernism: Trends in Canadian Art, 1970 – 1990, for contributing the above essay.
Estimate: $80,000 ~ $120,000 CAD
Sold For: $153,400.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)