24 Clinton Snider


Born Oklahoma City, 1969 / BFA Center for Creative Studies, Detroit / Lives in Bloomfield Township, Michigan

Clinton Snider’s beautifully-realized paintings examine issues of social and environmental transformation in Southeast Michigan. Often his works talk to their interconnectedness. For example, see 2004’s Tree and Fence, which shows an aged, dead, and truncated tree enveloping what appears to be an old fence post. In the far background are more buildings, but between them is an empty space. It is clear that the tree has led a fairly lengthy life, and hence the fence post must also be of some age. The suggestion is that the fence post is the last evidence of a once populated neighborhood, and that its survival is due to its relationship to the tree. Or alternatively, see 2002’s Tree of Heaven, where the eponymous trees are shown re-establishing themselves in the windbreak resulting from a freeway barrier – their existence dependent on an artifact of human intervention. Clearly Snider is both a formidable painter and a close observer of the city’s landscape, alive to indications of the past, and future change. It can also be noted that both of the previously mentioned works are realized on structures of found wood, often sourced close to the location of the painting. By painting on repurposed surfaces, Snider combines the local with broader global concerns of consumerism and recycling.

A pivotal piece in Snider’s career was Relics, which he completed with Scott Hocking for a 2001 installation at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and which comprises a large number of identically sized boxes containing assemblages of found objects from around Detroit. The intensity of the experience in creating this work – which totally consumed the artists for a year – and the consequent reflection on this time, led Snider to a mindset that allowed the creation of large-scale paintings such as Gaia. The title refers, of course, to the earth spirit, and the image clearly subverts the typical landscape image of natural beauty, but challenges the viewer to see it as anything other than sublime. Gaia and Tree of Heaven were both shown as part of an expansive solo exhibition in 2003 at Detroit’s Tangent Gallery which confirmed Snider’s reputation as a major artist in the city.

If the Detroit landscape has been Snider’s most obvious subject over the years, it has often been filtered through a distinctive, dream-like aesthetic. This has manifested itself in various ways, such as the playful curvature of space (see for example 2004’s Country in the City), eerie lighting conditions that can be difficult to reconcile into either day or night (e.g 2009’s The Twilight), the inclusion of typically expressionless self-portraiture (e.g. 2008’s Wanderer in the Alley), or the insertion of seemingly feral figures (sometimes the artist’s children, such as in 2011’s Chinese Restaurant). Works such as The Twilight, Chinese Restaurant, and 2012’s The Rat Catcher, show Snider moving away from the city as a muse, and towards more mysterious territory. His latest works include miniature wall-mounted imaginary landscapes, such as the cleverly titled Rupture/Rapture, which seems to point to an exit from the mortal plane entirely.

Snider describes the process of working through a painting as a meditation on existence. His works often start from a fleeting moment that through some combination of visual or psychological prompts has lodged in his memory. Photographs taken on journeys through the city may act as initiation points for further reflection. He considers a work to be completed to his satisfaction not just when it is resolved in a visual sense, but also when he feels that the significance of the moment has been revealed. Until this point he may be repeatedly re-working the image, and traversing an internal landscape of experiential, metaphysical, and spiritual concerns. It is a highly intuitive process, the results of which may not be describable in words, but which hopefully are embodied in the painting. His benchmarks are works by diverse art-historical figures ranging from Van Eyck and Vermeer through to Rothko which speak to him in a trans-historical, trans-cultural way of the moment they were created in. Snider’s quest is an exacting one, constantly striving for something just out of reach, and simultaneously trying to convey it through his painting. Ultimately his work is about showing the interconnectedness and interdependence of it all – a profound and universal vision.

Steve Panton, June 2015

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