Brian Snapp . . . from page 1
Looking around at Snapp’s current show at Finch Lane Gallery — several are large abstracted architectural works created as a single piece that didn’t quite fit in a 6-foot-high kiln — one observes that these certainly aren’t teapots. “I have made teapots and I make cups,” Snapp replies, taking a sip of tea from one elegant example. “And I teach throwing. That’s what I first learned to do with clay and I’ve been doing that for 40 years. More. I started throwing the summer between middle school and high school [Los Alamitos in California, near Long Beach] in a summer class. In high school all we did was throw pots, surf and play water polo.” He was listening then not to the Beach Boys, but to Bowie, Dylan, Brian Eno and Lou Reed, along with a lot of early jazz and blues.
At Cypress Community College, where he earned an associate degree, he was on “a six-year plan” because he was playing in rock bands: going into school when a band broke up and out again when he hooked up with another. He played tenor sax and was lead singer. “The heady years of the late ‘70s and all the clubs in LA,” he recalls. And not just any clubs — the legendary Troubadour, a Rolling Stone best rock club located in West Hollywood, and the famed Whisky A Go Go, were among them.
He got his bachelor’s in music at San Francisco State University and then went back down the coast, picked up a teaching credential at Cal State Long Beach and taught grade school there for a while before deciding that wasn’t for him. “I went back to Cypress College and worked with Charlene Felos who was and still is a fabulous and beautiful mentor and person,” Snapp says. She suggested graduate school, something that never had occurred to him, and said he should talk with Joe Soldate, considered to be a “revolutionary” ceramics professor at Cal State LA.
“I got my MFA in ceramics from there and started teaching. I was a freeway flier, I taught at three different colleges for five years and then serendipitously met David Pendell [then at the U] at a conference and that’s when I went to Utah.” A very circuitous road, he admits. “No surfing here,” he says, “but I do go back every year and hang out with the kids and grandkids and surf.” He gets emotional support locally from wife Michelle and 14-year-old daughter Samantha and has a son and two grandchildren on the West Coast.
Snapp is currently professor and area head of ceramics at the University of Utah, and, from 2009 until June of last year, served as chair of the Department of Art and Art History. He has shown work internationally and presented lectures and workshops in China, Korea, Italy, New Zealand, California, and, of course, Utah. His work has been seen here at Finch Lane several times starting as early as 2001, at the UMFA, and has been in several projects that Hikmet Loe curated, including the Salt show at the Ephraim Granary last year.
“I also had a mural that Kim Martinez was instrumental in helping me with that was a mixed-media piece having to do with war. It was a giant mercator map I painted using magnetic paint and then I had those car ribbons that are magnets for cars; tilted in the right direction they start to look like bombs. Painted black they went from North America into Europe and across the globe. The map was painted boy blue with pink longitude and latitude lines,” Snapp says, “so it was about, why are we sending our children to kill and be killed?”
As to the evolution of his work and the expression of social concerns that he is known for putting into it: “I guess I started making pots and selling pots and then when I got to Cypress College with Char, she was always pushing us to go outside of that,” he says. “Still using the wheel, but [telling us] how we could alter work and move work – that the potter’s wheel was just a tool, that it wasn’t the end, it was the means to an end. So I started working sculpturally with thrown objects and started to think about situations and environments and drawing on ideas of the human condition and how those types of things could be related in sculpture and art and with clay. Clay is just the most amiable medium for expression. You can express anything with it.”
Broadly, he says, his work “came from inside me and my situations and view of the world and creating my own kind of environment to show my perspectives and beliefs and values. And it wasn’t ‘til later that I started working more outside of myself, more looking toward things that were going on in the world – not really searching that out, it was coming to me quite heavily – news of the world, starting back with the first Iraq war and feeling helpless about the situation and not feeling like I had any kind of tools to make things better.
“And, as my art started to change [with his 2006 “Curing” show at the UMFA that we reviewed here], where I started to work to create environments, installations for people to sit and contemplate in, that had signs and symbols and imagery . . . as diverse as healing plants or alchemical symbols, hobo symbols that would say these are good people, these people will feed you. . . . [His fired clay pieces hung suspended from meat hooks above chairs that visitors were invited to occupy.] I was looking at these things as metaphors for thinking differently and possibly for creating a type of energy. I’m not a practitioner of any particular religion, however I do feel a need spiritually to help and also a motivation to put something out there that might help.
“I found a Reiki symbol [Reiki, he says, is a type of massage where you are not actually touched, ‘it’s more about energy, your chi, and trying to release some of that energy’] . . . and what I really liked about this particular symbol was its long-distance healing. I thought if this could really work; the idea of standing in Salt Lake City but sending something to Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, all that was going on with Desert Storm, if that could work, even a little bit, I will have done something. I do believe in the ripple effect. I do believe people can pick up these ideas and internalize them and who knows where they’re going to come out?”
The last installation he created for the UMFA was for the faculty show four years ago called Re-Present and it used a lot of similar symbols and signs. He had created a ceramic library for an exhibition in Seattle with over 400 tiles of “books” on shelves and re-presented the work in Utah with tiles that went to the top of the ceiling. “So it was 15 feet high and 33 feet long. With some lecterns so you could take the tiles, put them on the lecterns and contemplate.”
Inspired by poets such as Shane Koyczan, Pablo Neruda, Billy Collins, Allen Ginsberg and Emily Dickinson, Snapp also reads fiction widely, from Haruki Murakami to J.R.R.Tolkien to John Barth, and talks enthusiastically about Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, a collection he has just finished. He also has been highly influenced by Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space.
At Finch Lane, his seven collected works (different, he says, from anything he has done previously), are all titled “House of My Brother/House of My Sister” (because they are part of the same idea) and inspired by a poem from The New York Times Magazine he is moved to read aloud as we stand before one of his weighty ceramic pieces:
You Throw a Stone
Juan Filipe Herrera
you throw a stone
i throw a stone
i throw a stone
you throw a stone
then a rocket
a rocket comes down
here i lay
next to you
brothers in a way w/o a sky
my father’s house is empty your
mother’s house has no amber light
as it once had even the sun
the open field where you and i
once played (in our separate dreams)
burns & burns
those stones what were they
where did they come from
This latest work is probably the most literal he’s made, he says. “I’ve never made work that spoke specifically to architecture. Most of my work has either included the architecture through installation or created a new space for things to happen in, so these are all firsts.”
They speak to the loss of culture, the iconography that’s being destroyed in the world, people’s homes, “where all of their dreams and aspirations and longings are being displaced and that’s what set off the work in this show,” Snapp says.
“So there’s this playfulness,” Snapp observes, “this childlike quality, and an adult intelligence of collecting and putting things together and a hope in them as well. The other quality that’s important to me in making is that it says clay. It doesn’t say any other medium but clay. Although it’s fired and it’s hard, it still looks very soft. So there’s constant contrast between the hard and the soft, fired and unfired, and that transformation and so it’s constantly speaking to process and it’s constantly speaking to the idea of making. I also think it doesn’t seem particularly finished.”
Like one of his pieces at Finch Lane, the world is twisted, he says. “Everything is twisted. It’s so layered and so twisted and so convoluted and it’s so hard to unpack what is going on in the world and how the hell we got here.”
But with Snapp, what it all comes down to is this: “I like working in the contemporary realm, I like working in the conceptual realm, I like working in layers. Stanley Kunitz wrote life is in the layers. I like to say life is in the layers and at the edges. I like living in that space when I’m making work and when I’m participating in the world. . . .
“I have thoughts in my head, I have research that’s gone on in my head, but I really just have to put my hands in the clay and let that stuff come out as I’m working.”
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Drawing Outside the Frame
Lewis Crawford's Constructs at Finch Lane
“Everyone leaves marks, both physically and emotionally,” says Lewis Crawford. The artist, who is featured in a group show now up at Finch Lane, uses this philosophy to guide a conceptually fluid assortment of visual experiments, or “constructs.”
Crawford’s works are simultaneously philosophical and simple—emphasizing the primal role of mark-making in art. The two-dimensional pieces combine images of urban and industrial landscapes with geometric forms. In “Construct No. 693” the shadow cast on a textured wall is reconstructed as a contour line drawing beneath the photograph, a process that relates the two images but also acts as a process of extraction. The lines Crawford expands upon can relate to the physical, like the contour of a hillside, projected outside the picture frame, or the immaterial, like the projected path of an airplane as it proceeds through and then past the picture frame.
Set atop bright print paper, the relationship between image and mark aesthetically maps the artist’s method and begs the viewer to ponder the relationship between landscape and abstract form. Visually, such geometric marks oscillate in their intensity by directly intersecting the image or balancing the composition by marking the otherwise vacant space beside the image.
Here, an age-old interplay occurs between the starkness of the geometric mark and the thickly textured surface on which it is placed. Such works remind one of various art historical experiments, most notably Picasso’s Synthetic Cubism, which relished in the chemistry between form and space. Similarly, Crawford’s “constructs” read as a summation of the artist’s intellectual journey, reading as more self-reflexive than viewer-oriented. “None of these marks would be here unless someone made the landscape for them to inhabit. I document these urban landscapes. I mix media and marks. I see stories in these marks,” says Crawford.
Crawford replicates, extends and transforms the marks he finds in the landscape, but he also creates new marks and symmetries as he continues his formal explorations. When in “Construct No. M15-6-17” he slices through the image of a construction crane against an evening sky and separates the two images by a very small gap, he creates two new compositions with dynamics very different from the original. In “Construct No. 1272” he keeps the spliced images adjacent, but shifts one up slightly, breaking the perfect circle that appears in the white space at the top of the frame. It is similar to the seismic shifts that create lines in the natural world as well.
In all its vastness and frailty, the landscape has become a permanent fixture in Utah art. Indelibly drawn to the land’s many contradictions, local artists have augmented, critiqued and defined the visual legacy bestowed by the Land Artists of the ‘60s and ‘70s. To Crawford, his work exists as “an examination into the reassignment of marks found in humanmade landscapes.” This inquiry finds conceptual companionship among the work of Land Art titan Robert Smithson, whose process rejected the picturesque in favor of the intrusive emblems of human intervention. Smithson’s early work in his hometown of Passaic, New Jersey, looked to abandoned industrial sites as the ultimate embodiment of humankind, much more so than the artificially manicured parks for which many place their admiration.
In the individual works, Crawford’s lines are meant to emphasize the continuity of space and the mental constructs that continue outside the artist-imposed frame of an image. For this show, Crawford requested that the works be hung in specific pairings, so as to allow geometric forms to flow from one work to another, expanding his original conceit across the entire gallery. These groups evoke an enthusiasm for the simple delights of form and shape, principles that underlie the artistic process and are so often masked by narrative.
Crawford has maintained a longstanding interest in marks existing within human-engineered landscapes. Originally from Prescott, Arizona, he currently works as an assistant professor of art at the University of Utah and an adjunct instructor at Westminster College. As a photographer he has captured the geometric forms existing within many local public spaces. His process seems uniquely suited to finding the beautiful in the banal, capturing that which we may discover if we spared but a moment to observe.