Final Light . . . from page 1
The most essential pages are, of course, the color images and these are largely excellent. McEntire reports that the well-known artist and University of Utah Professor Emeritus Tony Smith, “who knows Doug’s work better than anyone,” helped him with the color proofs. “We felt images on the final printed pages are as accurate as can be had, given many of the separations were made from slides taken by Doug.” Snow (and McEntire) had a terrific eye; only a very few reproductions seem merely photographic (e.g. Stone Mountain, 1977, Light Walk, 1984); the rest have a marvelous depth and texture that you can actually feel if you run your hand across a page.
It’s the perfect size for an art book, approximately 11" x 10", not too large to be unwieldy (it sits nicely on the lap) but large enough for images to reproduce satisfactorily and leave you wanting more than the 87 color photos it presents in its 192 pages. It sells for $26.95 and is available at most local bookstores.
I get up in the morning primed to do something important, something urgent. – V. Douglas Snow
In her brief, intelligent foreword Mary Francey writes that the essays on the man, the art and the land “not only clarify meanings in his work; they also establish a solid foundation for Doug Snow’s legacy, which rests at least partly in his reassurance that landscape is a timeless, enduring presence that effectively keeps pace with contemporary trends.” Perhaps with a nod toward controversy surrounding the piece in the Utah Supreme Court, which the justices insist be covered during sessions, she says: “The murals, especially, are not benign backdrops but thought-provoking inhabitants of the spaces they occupy.“
In his introduction, McEntire tells us the original title of that mural, now called Capitol Reef, was “appropriately” Conflict and Resolution. “A thunderstorm caught Snow on one of his hikes in Capitol Reef National Park while he was thinking about what to paint for the mural. He saw the storm as ‘conflict.’ Afterward – when the sun came out and the moisture on the hot sandstone vaporized – he saw it as ‘resolution.’"
Most of Snow’s landscapes “draw their power” from the Cockscomb, says McEntire, “a huge, rugged serrated rock formation at the base of Wayne County’s Boulder Mountain. This singular prominent feature in the sage- and juniper-covered terrain is continually shape-shifting, with seasonally endowed shafts of light, shadow, and mystery.” Snow positioned his studio so he could see the formation: “‘I could spend the rest of my life painting the Cockscomb,’ he said. ‘It would be my Mont Sainte Victoire,’ a landmark that French impressionist Paul Cezanne repeatedly painted from his studio at the end of his life. . . .The Cockscomb motif is a key to understanding Snow’s expressionist vision and is reflected in almost everything he painted – a nude, still life, ancient Italian ruins . . .”
We learn much about the artist’s early life from McEntire, a fascinating exposition that tells us his mother was born not far from Capitol Reef but met and married a young soldier at the end of World War I, Vivian Douglas Snow, and moved to Salt Lake City with him. In the 1940s she would introduce her son and two daughters to southern Utah and they, Doug said, “flipped for the place.” Forty years later he built his studio and a home for his own family there.
Snow attended the University of Utah, the American Artists School in New York and Columbia University, receiving his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. He studied in Italy as a Fulbright Scholar and would teach, mostly at the U of U, for nearly 40 years while he continued to paint.
He was one of those rare people who seem to belong wherever they happen to be. – Edward Lueders
Author Ed Lueders tells us he first knew Snow in the mid-1960s when he joined the Department of English at the U. As department chairmen, he and Snow negotiated the student and faculty demonstrations of the Vietnam War era, a period the artist found quite wearing. Lueders, too, later built a home in Torrey and shared a number of the artist’s interests there: the Wednesday table-tennis group, the Thursday afternoon Wayne County Chess Club, the Torrey/Teasdale/Grover short-story-reading group on the first and third Tuesday evenings of each month. He says that Snow loved operatic tenors and Gustav Mahler and had been a “boy singer” with local big bands — he still knew all the pop tunes from the 1940s.
In the final analysis, all of us who come into contact with Doug’s art are his students. – Teresa Jordan
In a delightful and telling essay, artist and author Teresa Jordan says: “Almost everyone who talks about Doug describes him as a romantic who loved beauty in all things — art, opera, language, design, and nature . . . He dressed with flair.” She interviews noted artists who were once students of Snow and who recall revelatory things. “I probably wouldn’t be an artist at all if it hadn’t been for Doug,” says Tony Smith, “but I don’t think he ever taught me how to do anything.” Earl Jones adds: “He didn’t teach us to put paint on or how to glaze. He never systematically taught the art of painting. It was purely an emotional thing for him. He provided inspiration.” And Dave Dornan recalls: “He never talked about one of his own paintings as if he really knew what it was about. He wondered about it right along with you.”
That was evident when he was painting the mural in the Salt Lake City Library. Snow told filmmaker Claudia Sisemore for her 1977 documentary that a workman there asked him if he had submitted the low bid to get the job. He replied that he hadn’t. “But they were suspicious until they saw that it was one hell of a lot of work, he said.” Eventually, they began bringing their families in on weekends and explaining the mural to them, assuring them that it was getting better. “Well, it wasn’t really getting better; it was just that they were getting used to it. They were beginning to experience it,” Snow said.
“That’s it . . . that’s the one, Doug . . . that’s . . . the one . . . I want.” –Katie Lee
Environmentalist, folk artist and author Katie Lee offers an evocative essay about, among other things, how she came to possess a Doug Snow painting titled Final Light. (The artist was working on a different Final Light when he died.) It’s a charming recollection about an honest, enviable decades-long friendship (with some behind-closed-doors insights into the artist) and a treatise on what really should motivate us to acquire a piece of art.
If Snow did not fully understand the implications of abstraction in the 1950s (and who did?) . . . he deduced one important thing: abstraction and realism were not inconsistent. This may seem an ideological commonplace now, but then it was not. – Will South
In “Seeing Snow,” artist and author Will South, chief curator for the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina, brings us an invaluable and very readable art historian’s perspective on the painter’s work. He begins with artists Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran, in whose hands “the American West became like the East, only larger and vastly more dramatic,” then takes us to Utah where “seeing nature as evidence of a perfect but inscrutable divine plan was well established . . . through the capable paintings of H.L.A. Culmer and J.T. Harwood, among others.” The rise of tonalist and impressionist landscape painting gave us “the twentieth-century Utah artist who best represents a blend of romantic realism with a slightly impressionistic bent,” and “who squeezed poetry out of visions of the most modest, poplar-lined Utah town” — LeConte Stewart, who would teach young Doug Snow at the University of Utah. South explains that Snow understood earlier landscape painting well but did not “begin and end a painting with literal transcriptions of what he saw.” Influenced by abstract expressionism from very early in his career, Snow’s work, South says, “is a visual and visceral self-examination as much as a record of geological processes . . . His approach, from the 1950s forward, was not to make pictures of things, but rather to make his art an extension of himself into a world of things.”
Doug Snow’s physical studio . . . to paraphrase Bachelard’s words – sheltered his daydreaming. . . . allowed him to dream in peace. . . . But his sense of place, as potential, as religious, as surprising and mysterious and dangerous and a source of sudden beauty – was much larger. -- David Kranes
Author and playwright David Kranes addresses the topic of place in the art of Doug Snow in a haunting and lyrical essay. Home, he says “only, finally becomes home if the blank sheet of paper bears words, if the empty stretch of canvas bears color, line, and shape.” He reminds us of the work of Gaston Bachelard, whose The Poetics of Space “stands toe-to-toe with such questions” as “Where is the ‘house’ of our best imaginings, our most possible art?” But for him, Kranes says, “the power and mystery of space have always been true. I feel space on my skin.” He tells us, interestingly, that Snow was both an actor, in his youth, and a playwright in his later years, and describes in detail the artist’s two-act play, Blind Sight, set in New York City, Utah’s Salt Flats and redrock country. And Kranes concludes that Snow, too, carried place on his skin. “You cannot hide; your art will find you. Place is weather and light; it’s the music of time and the voices of ghosts.”
For an artist who lived in and painted a desert landscape, the prevalence of storms in Snow’s work may appear incongruous, but it is precisely the desert dweller who pays the most attention to the weather. –Shawn Rossiter
In his essay, “Drama of the Land,” artist and arts magazine editor Shawn Rossiter writes familiarly and resonantly about “a landscape that must be lived to be believed” and tells us briefly how Snow brought the New York School of painting to Utah. In Snow’s early works, he says, “a band of painterly activity strides across the center of the canvas or comes rising up from the bottom to fill the painting. These spangled passages sit atop or are wedged in by more open bands of color . . . frequently created by masking a heavily worked substrate” (something he suggests Snow may have picked up by looking at Jackson Pollock’s She Wolf at the Museum of Modern Art).
While some bits of information in the essays overlap, it’s a thoughtfully and lovingly edited book, well worth making room for on your lap and on your shelf.
Hints & Tips: Plein Air Painting
The joys of being a plein air painter
This year my summer was filled with a range of plein air experiences: teaching a plein air workshop in Spring City Utah; informal location work, painting as a guest artist with the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for two weeks; and a three-day backpacking/painting trip into Grand Teton National Park.
Spring City is a great visual feast for a painter of the landscape: rolling meadows, fertile farmland, quaint old buildings and a lot of good painting company. I even got to lodge solo for the week at the old Granary,|2| owned by Susan Gallacher of Kings Cottage Gallery. This old building, that dates back to the early pioneers, has a room upstairs that was the office of Orson Hyde, one of the early LDS Church Apostles. It is now the bedroom, nicely fitted with period furniture and a lot of atmosphere. Owing to the stone construction, the building is quite cool during the heat of the day, and it was relaxing and enjoyable to retreat there each evening after a long day of instructing out in the field. The setting in Spring City is like stepping back into the past when the pace of life was slower, which made the cares of the world drift away for me that week.
One afternoon during the workshop, a student named Byron and I were in the field when we met an old timer who came out to see what Byron was painting. In his eighties, the man was so thrilled that painters were working near his house that he stayed and watched Byron’s painting progress for an hour or more. We found out that he had been living in the same house since the late '50s, all that time caring for his wife who became an invalid after a car accident. He was able to work all those years because of the good will of an employer who knew of his situation and made special arrangements to keep his hours flexible enough that he could run home any time his wife needed him. That by itself was heartwarming enough, but the story goes on: when this man is not caring for his wife, he is either helping a local scout unit or a young man with Downs Syndrome, who stops by to visit him every day on his bicycle. It did our hearts good to meet this humble man, a reminder that the good life is just as much about commitment and service to others as it is about all of the luxuries most of us take for granted. Byron was so touched by our new friend that he decided to stop by his house later on that day and present him with the painting, which I’m sure will be treasured by him and his wife. Some things in life just can’t be priced!
The Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters two-week event was a nonstop train on the “plein air express." Each day it was up at six, a quick shower, breakfast and painting in the park until dark. RMPAP member Wes Montgomery and I got to share a house for the event, courtesy of John Woody and artist Roberta Glidden, who provided not only lodgings for the two weary painters, but warm hospitality and good conversation as well. Although a lot of work, this experience gave me time to explore various painting locations and moods of the Tetons in a random fashion dictated only by where the wind took me on any given day. One time I might be out painting on the flats doing a mountain scene and the next a river, stream or forest interior. There is a certain freedom working this way that suits me and provides a peace of mind that is hard to match. Two experiences really stand out in my mind from this show. The first was a moment in time when I was working out in an open field close to the main road that goes through GTNP. All of a sudden I heard the sound of antlers tapping in the woods behind me when a herd of elk about 20 strong appeared and, startled by my presence, stopped at the edge of the wood and looked me over. I froze in my tracks as well, and we all stood there for a moment before they came bounding across the road and disappeared into the forest again. The grace and beauty of that encounter will be a lifelong memory I am sure. On another occasion, I decided to drive out on the elk refuge one evening to capture the mood of the Sleeping Indian at dusk. The evening was cool and the clouds were building up nicely in what was sure to be a spectacular sunset. Just as I was preparing the small panel for the painting I could hear off in the distance the sound of what seemed like hundreds of coyote. It was an eerie, yet beautiful sound that seemed both mystical and sacred — like I was the only witness to an ancient ritual that has been repeated for centuries in these same mountains. I was in awe to be there and was deep in my thoughts when a Native American man approached me to see what I was doing. We stood there for a few minutes exchanging ideas and he told me he was off to Sundance for several days of meditation to get in touch with his spiritual side. I was fortunate to be surrounded by so many reminders of the natural order of both present and past.
In addition to the painting experiences, I enjoyed showing up at several of my “wind run” spots to discover others from the group who had the same wind driving them to the same location at the same time! I’m sure I enjoyed the camaraderie of the group as much as I did the actual experience of painting. All in all, I came away from this event with some new ideas and influences from working with other seasoned artists in such an inspiring environment. The show culminated with a RMPAP BBQ and the announcement that this year the show had raised thousands of dollars for Grand Teton National Park in an era of tight budgets on the national and local levels.|3|
Finally, there was the three day hike into The Teton backcountry that topped off my summer adventures. This was suggested to me by one of my painting students, Jay Mace, who is an avid outdoorsman and lover of nature.|4| Jay said he would show me some amazing country to paint and he was true to his word! It was as good, or better than anything I saw and experienced on my trips to Alaska. I was a little apprehensive about the timing of the trip at first; being that it would come right on the heels of a two week haul at the RMPAP show. Besides that, I had never hiked that far with 45 lbs. of painting gear, sleeping bag, tent, food and enough water to keep me going for three days and wondered if my backpack as well as my back was up to the challenge.|5| The water was the least of my problems since a good sturdy filter purchased at Recreation Outlet was just the thing I needed. The food and backpack was another story. I thought I had it all down to a science as to what would fit in the pack and what would not, until we were handed plastic barrels by the rangers to store our food in. At that point I knew my backpack was too small which forced me to tie a lot of gear on the outside — a move that caused me to look like a prancing, prospecting, panhandler on the trail. I also found out that the pack which I usually use for shorter hikes was not up to the challenge of comfort that better gear would have provided. By the time I hiked the eight mile trip to the campsite where I met Jay, my shoulders were ready to give out and may have, had it not been for the bottle of ibuprofen I brought along for the ride. Bottom line, before my next overnighter in nature I will be making a trip to one of our local outdoor recreation stores for some expert advice on the right pack. Aside from that, the painting experience was great. One thing that helped save on space was the fact that I decided to use acrylics and several 6 x 8 foam core panels I made for this occasion. My thinking was that if I didn’t have to bring paint thinner and tissues I could save a lot of room and cut down on the weight as well. The thinner was replaced by water I got out of the stream and the tissues by a few rags. This all proved to be a worthwhile strategy, with satisfying results.
Fortunately, I didn’t need a wet canvas carrier since I laid the studies out in the sun for about 15 minutes after the painting session and they were dry enough to put into the pack like that. One of them did sustain a little damage, but the real value of these studies is going to be back in the studio where they will be put to good use as reference for larger works. This was the point I had to make to a hiker I met on the trail while painting, who wanted to purchase the acrylic shown below. Some studies cost too much in blood sweat and tears to let go for some momentary monetary advantage, no matter how tempting at the time!
As it worked out, I received an invitation by the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters to be a regular member; which will mean more experiences next summer. I have included an oil |6| and one acrylic study|1| that will give you a better idea of what has been presented here. Until next time ...