ARTIST OF THE MONTH -
Sandi Snead - Southwestern Surrealism
by Sydney Francis
I never cease to be amazed at how
an artist can capture the depth of the human soul in a single
image. It is a common cliché that a picture is worth
a thousand words. In Sandi Sneads case, however, a thousand
words cannot necessarily describe the complex emotional and
spiritual textures delicately woven together in her pencil
drawings and oil paintings.
At the beginning of our interview, I took
up Sneads portfolio to get an idea about how to address
her work. My initial impression of the first image in the
portfolio, Looking In, was that it was a muted photograph.
But then I realized that it was a very detailed black and
white pencil drawing. The execution of Looking In is so exact
that it takes the viewer a minute to process that the content
of the work is surrealistic.
to find the words to talk about her work, I asked Snead what
she felt was invested in the drawing. She said that all her
pencil drawings are about this abandoned mission she discovered
in Northern New Mexico. Upon entering the mission a flood
of feelings and psychic impressions overwhelmed her. She sensed
a great sadness and grief, like that of many people dying.
My second realization about Looking In
was that I was being observed by the many tiny faces in the
walls. Subconsciously I felt the presence of spirits immediately,
but then I began to consciously take note of the each and
every individual face in the mission walls. And that is when
I began to acknowledge the haunting spiritual narrative that
is being told in these mission drawings.
In addition to presence of the faces, a
surrealistic drama is taking place. A Christ-like figure stands
above the crowd, holding some sort of sphere. A floating bottle
dropper is baptizing him. A mysterious man stands behind him
and peers over his shoulder. Bystanders below look away toward
something else happening outside of the scene. Another man
peeks through the window at the activity within. And a small
dancing figure in the same window strikes an ethereal pose
like bird in flight.
Surrealism was a political concept postulated by artist and
theorist André Breton between World War I and World
War II. The point of surrealist art was to reach beyond the
ability of formalist art in order to transform the social
consciousness by stimulating the unconscious through the fantastic
juxtaposition of realistically detailed images. During this
inter-war period, many modern European artists, including
the surrealists, were seeking to express the stark spiritual
reality around them.
Sneads drawings can be correctly classified as surrealistic.
Through realistic rendering she creates a haunting picture
of spiritual life that is disturbingly vacant of human warmth,
but very rich in psychological content and mysticism.
chilling presence evoked in her drawings could partly be a
result of the medium she engages. The highly detailed black
and white images clearly represent the starkness and melancholy
of the abandoned mission. Snead works in a unique drawing
style, layering parallel pencil layers from light to dark
at a 45º angle, using a hard pencil. There is no crosshatching
for shadow and texture, but rather the texture is created
by the repetition of the pencil strokes. For a drawing like
Looking In, 30" x 38", Snead estimates about one
hundred hours of drawing time.
Snead has been painting and drawing since
she was a young child. She showed me one of her drawings and
one painting she had done at around 14 years of age. Her ability
to create real texture and detail with photographic precision
was already developed. Because of her very obvious artistic
talent, she won a full scholarship to the Art Institute of
Fort Lauderdale where she studied to become an illustrator.
She worked as an illustrator for a few years at the well-known
firm of William Cook. However, working at the drawing board
sixty hours per week, she quickly realized that there was
more to creating her art than merely the execution of realistic
pointed out to me that she has been dancing for over 25 years.
The action in her drawings and paintings is that of Martha
Graham style modern dance movement. It is her Modern Dance
education, rather than her art school background, that has
really informed and influenced her work.
Returning to the images with the knowledge
of her dance background, one begins to sense the kinetic interpretation
of the space. The sharp and graceful poses of the figures
express in dance language the human emotions of the work.
For example in Maten Me the foremost figure is holding a pose
that frames the intensity, sadness and introspection of the
overall drawing. The second figure, in the middle, acts out
the deep pain of physicalized grief or torture. This second
figure actually has face make-up on like that of a stage performer.
The third figure in the lower right hand corner silently listens
and observes in the scene. The viewer expects her to eventually
emerge from the recess she.
Also in Untitled the drama of the image
is revealed in the dance movement. In the distance a group
of figures strike the quintessential Martha Graham pose, which
happens to echo the repetitive quality of the arched windows.
The dance movement also psychologically symbolizes the ghostly
quality of the work, as spirits rising.
Snead continues to explore complex emotional narratives and
stylized dramatic movement in her oil paintings. In contrast
to her drawings, her oil paintings are alive with vibrant,
complimentary colors and sensually smooth textures. Using
fewer details and a simpler composition than in her pencil
drawings, The Friendship shows her ability to create an equally
intricate story in oil. The woman in the foreground appears
to be looking down at the rose in her hand, but she seems
to be thinking about something else. The figure on the horizon
is frozen as it reaches out to the woman walking away. There
is a tangible psychic distance between the two, mirroring
the literal distance portrayed in the picture. The shadow
expresses the dominant action in the painting; it appears
to move and to change with the blowing breeze. Ironically,
the shadow signifies the life in the painting.
1987 Snead came to the Canyon country for the first time from
Florida. She fell in love with the place and knew she had
to live here. She was compelled artistically to focus her
art on this area of the Southwest, which she knew did not
appeal to the average Floridians taste in art. From
1990 onward she made annual trips to Moab. In 1998 she purchased
a piece of land in La Sal and began building her home from
nothing, while living in a tent. She has been working on a
new series of oil paintings representing local rock formations.
She plans to show her recent work about the local area in
Sneads current work using local rock
formations is a synthesis of the haunting surrealism found
in her mission drawings with the vibrant and stark drama represented
in her oil paintings. Snead describes it best as somewhere
between Dali and Georgia OKeefe. Her mural Rock Talk
on the wall out side of the Marc II Gallery is a simplified
and acrylic version of an oil painting concentrating on the
Moab environment. In the rock series, she continues to explore
the use of faces, which maintain the texture and spirituality
of the work shown here.
Snead will be the featured artist at the
Red Rock Bakery in December as a part of the Moab Art Walk
on December 8th from 6-9 p.m. She also has a mural on the
outside south wall of Marc II Gallery a.k.a. Rubys.