Art can offer a multitude of diverse experiences: visual stimulation,
a record of events and times, an observation or statement of social
or political nature, and emotional content a visceral expression
of the artists perspective. Clinton Sniders current solo
show at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery encompasses all of these aspects
each one informing and enhancing appreciation of the others.
Through his work Detroits abandoned landscape takes hold of
our eyes, mind, and heart.
imagery is of the vacant shells of once vital and populated homes
and factories now overgrown with weeds and full of broken and boarded-up
windows. Yet despite the state of decay, Snider infuses the work with
a strong sense of hope. His use of color is lively and varied, bright
but not overwhelming, creating a vitality for what in reality must
be grayer scenery. The color provides a touch of sentiment
a memory of a brighter past as well as forward thinking
the promise of a better tomorrow. Whether a tree or a ubiquitous utility
pole, each piece has a prominent vertical form, like a blossom reaching
sunward in spring. Snider recognizes rightly that decay and growth
are inseparable aspects of the cycle of life.
Sniders drawing reveals his care for the places and their stories.
He renders the forms with an accurate, yet somewhat whimsical illustrational
quality the landscape curves and buildings lean and bend giving
them with personality and character. Snider shifts the perspective
imaginatively to further draw the viewer into this environment. These
certainly arent Whoville streets, but they arent
as bleak as the subject matter might suggest either. If a comparison
between Snider and Seuss seems odd, perhaps it might be tempered by
associating Sniders buildings with Käthe Kollwitzs
figures. Both are rendered with such empathy, that despite the downtrodden
state of their circumstances, they still maintain a vestige of strength
and dignity. To pick out but one example from Sniders work,
in Ronnies Meats a crosswalk signs red palm
flashes indicating dont walk. The sign keeps futilely
fulfilling its function, despite the fact that the street looks like
it hasnt been driven down or walked on in years.
multi-layered paint surfaces give the work an anthropological quality.
Hidden layers make their presence known by how they affect the visible
outer layers. Grass lots, for instance, are more than compositional
blocks of color, they are dense, rich jungles that one could sink
a hand deep into or lose something in its clutches. Weeds that break
through the sidewalk reveal the presence of rich earth buried beneath
the concrete. The curvature of the landscape implies the connection
between these places and the rest of the world just out of sight at
the edge of the horizon.
all but abandons traditional canvases, instead painting on planks
of wood that could have been (and likely were) found in many of the
locales he portrays. This adds a meta-level to the imagery
the paintings are not only about something, they are made from that
thing as well. The structure serves Sniders work in a variety
of ways. In some pieces he creates an irregular shape that allows
his already fluid perspective to extend further beyond the boundaries
of the rectangle. Space is stretched visually and physically as well,
as some of his most inventive surfaces not only extend in various
directions but curve towards the viewer thereby adding to the perceived
dimensionality. In some work, the spaces between the planks are quite
distinct, fracturing the space and echoing the fragmented structure
of the houses depicted. The arrangement of the wood pieces is in rhythm
with the overall composition, prompting one to wonder whether the
image composition came first and Snider built the assemblage to fit,
or vice versa. In Alley the gaps between the vertical
planks run parallel to a grove of trees. The trees shadows crisscross
against the wood. The cross of a telephone pole occupies a horizontal
segment of wood which makes up the surface, providing the eye a place
to rest from the up and down flow of the composition.
The use of such materials also ties into an idea of rebirth, as rather
than ending up in a landfill they are now preserved and on display
at an art gallery. This carries on the tradition Snider established
with Scott Hocking in Relics (from "10
Artists Take On Detroit." at the DIA), where the pair turning
derelict objects found in Detroit buildings, and transformed them
into an installation. Snider has also created a delightful series
of tiny paintings, more regularly rectangular in nature than the larger
works. The paint on these pieces is thick and cracking, like the layers
of paint on an old house where each new tenant keeps covering up the
chipping paint put on by the last owner. Whereas the larger works
open up the space wider than the rectangle, these works are contained
by a frame constructed through built up paint.
Sniders work is of course timely. The Detroit mystique generates
countless hipster t-shirts around the globe and more serious curiosity
in the form of such things as the Shrinking Cities project.
Snider captures the abandonment of the former mecca of industrialization,
not by overt politicization, but through honest observation and contemplation.
By making the imagery beautiful despite the decay, he allows viewers
to invest their care in what is depicted without forcing any point
in their direction. To paraphrase singer Natalie Merchant, life is
hard, but life is also sweet. Snider reveals both aspects in his work.
That Sniders images linger long after one has left the gallery
and that each one invites repeated viewing is a terrific accomplishment.
But he has done something more, in the way that he shared his perspective
and his empathy with his audience he has made it difficult to view
our surroundings in the way that we might have before. Clinton Snider
not only has given us something to look at but affected how we look
at the world. Nick Sousanis