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Sasha Grishin review in The Canberra Times

Arryn Snowball: Square Sun at Nancy Sever Gallery

by Sasha Grishin

Arryn Snowball, at the age of 40, is an artist young enough to embrace a fascination with the world around him and be receptive to fresh ideas and stimuli, yet old enough to have mastered a technique of painting that has both a subtlety and lightness of touch.

Although born in Sydney, Snowball is essentially a Brisbane product and a graduate of the Queensland College of the Arts, where he both studied and taught panting. His oil paintings occupy the space between being and nothingness, where form has emerged, but has not, as yet, fully asserted its identity and exists like a waking dream – full of potential, but also somewhat fugitive and uncertain in its existence.

Snowball writes: "I'd like my painting to be a place to hover between awareness of being and loss of being, a space, not only for communication but for empathy; insisting on nothing and suggesting everything."

It is this sense of ambiguity and intangibility that is strongly felt in his sizeable House of Breath paintings. They are beautifully crafted objects like floating veils that seem to move in an invisible breeze.

Their delicacy, translucence, yet bold contrast against the surrounding black void adds to their slightly mysterious other worldliness. Most of them appear to have been painted a couple of years ago and they are the paintings through which he made his early reputation.

There are two more recent series of work at the exhibition – Continuum and the Word painting series. The first series appears like sketches in space, where lines radiate from a central idea or axis and then spread and occupy the space. They read like intuitive mark-making – an invitation to follow the physicality of the mark from the moment it starts with a paint-loaded brush, until the paint is largely gone, leaving only the dry tracks of the brush. It is here that we perceive an exceptional lightness of touch.

The Word painting series is, in part, a collaboration with the Queensland poet Nathan Shepherdson, and in part, a game playing with colours and shapes around the repetition of words. The dark paintings, including Deep Down Boom Boom (2017), are a bit too clever, so they become predictable, while in the lighter blue paintings the letters are allowed to assert their presence with traces of emotion appearing in the brushwork. The poem is the title of the work, with one of the more effective paintings called A thousand dead mathematicians will tell you there is safety in numbers before they all sit up and count to one.

Snowball has created a memorable exhibition that flirts with abstraction through very concrete images, which refuse to completely show their hand. We are never quite certain as to what exactly we are seeing as we enter a world of shadows, glimpses and echoes.

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