We surf an endless sea of information, with screens as our vessels. Simultaneously, our skulls host an instantaneous exchange which takes place between eye and brain. An image is registered, comprehended, forgotten. Onwards we churn, with no horizon in sight.
Paul Snell's recent works lure the viewer into a meditation on image saturation. The title of this exhibition, Visceral, brings the body back into the equation – not just eye and brain, but gut. These new works have emerged instinctively out of the artist's process, and consequently they grab the viewer viscerally, harnessing the senses and luring them around the composition into voids and point of tension.
The source imagery for these works, plucked from all corners of the world wide web, has been digitally abstracted and manipulated by the artist to painterly effect. Scrolling, flicking and pinching at flatness has given way to absorbing fields of colour which swirl, diffuse and envelop. These images are presented at large scale and embedded behind a matte plexiglass surface. Drawing the body towards this threshold, the gaze seeks to find a place to land.
The onomatopoeic quality of the word visceral was a key point of departure for Snell when developing this body of work. The tones employed in many of the works in the exhibition – blood red, deep purple and velvety black – recall the dark recesses of the body's interior, while brighter gold and blue hues evoke the light behind closed eyelids, or veins perceptible beneath translucent skin.
The viewer seeks coherence in these compositions, but their gaze is pushed and pulled this way and that, enticed into murkiness or bathed in ethereal light. Snell's manipulation of the picture plane conjures defined ridges, soft valleys and ghostly shadows. A suggestion of three-dimensionality, brought into being through pixels and plexiglass, calls to the viewer. Several of these new works are diptychs comprised of a pair of almost-mirror images, their points of difference playing across the work's horizon. In other works, the ruptures are more subtle, leaving the eye seeking round the soft surface before settling upon an almost imperceptible pulse.
Snell's use of palette and composition emerges out of a tradition of painting, but his ultra-contemporary source material is the exponential bombardment of images faced by humans in the digital age. His works are a place for bodies and eyes to find moments of respite among the endless data. Soft waves gently usher in the viewer, points of tension are found, before voids provide a place to come to rest.
The works in Visceral are an interrogation of the digital deluge. They are the swirling sensation of being dumped by a wave in the surf; or the afterimage of a bright screen in a dark room. They are endlessly scrolling images being sucked into a vortex; or an ungraspable scene being chased through a strange dream.
Chloé Wolifson, August 2021
Press release courtesy Gallery 9.