Friday, February 15, 2008

Clinton Snider

Untitled, 2008
Oil on canvas

I have lived in Detroit for many years, since moving here in 1991 when I started college. Over the years the city itself has been my muse. I find deep inspiration and wonder in the streets, and neighborhoods and the nature found in Detroit. I have thoroughly investigated the abandoned spaces of the city, exploring scores of moldering buildings, vacant fields, and countless dilapidated houses, blocks upon blocks of empty broken streets and sprawling fields that at one time were neighborhoods, or fenced in forests that were once yards. Gathering forgotten objects and bringing them back to the studio, and laboring to uncover the hidden significance.

In my wanderings I encounter discarded photographs and family albums, which I take and keep safe. Occasionally I feel a need to paint one of the images. Painting for me is a means of empathizing with a subject, and by painting an old photo I allow myself to peel back layers of time and glimpse into that moment when it was taken. I want to go beyond nostalgia and find something more tangible; there are many sensations, humor, pride, sadness, or doubt, sometimes within one image.

Quite recently I uncovered images of my father in the mid seventies, when he was an agent with the F.B.I. It was surprising to see my father looking younger than I am now in a recognizable Detroit neighborhood. Of course I knew he worked in the city but I never made the connection that he must know these same streets (in perhaps a different way) that I am so fond of.

In these particular 8x10 photographs He is on site of a fraud investigation where contractors have apparently been taking HUD (Housing and Urban Development) funds to clean up abandoned houses. Instead they were burying the debris and keeping the profits.


With its thousands of deserted, moldering buildings and blocks upon blocks of empty, broken streets, Detroit is the mother of all scrap yards. And ever since the late 1960s, when abandonment of the city by businesses and the populace began to explode exponentially, its trove of cast-offs has been mined by legions of scavengers, including at least two generations of visual artists. True bricoleurs, these cultural producers have worked by bringing the refuse of life into the refuge of art, imbuing the otherwise forgotten with renewed significance and thus value. Thirty-six year old Clinton Snider is one of the latest to emerge.

This work builds a new representational order literally upon the debris Snider has collected and adds narrative content to its visual form. In these pieces, which are basically paintings executed on junk substrates, the material aspect of art work is always evident. Painted on top of retrieved strips of lumber, the conventional "window" view is interrupted by the different lengths of board that have been hammered together,

Subverting the rectangular plane of traditional easel painting. Melancholy seems to be the pervasive mood here, but not entirely, on one level the painting is about the decline of modern civilization in Detroit, but on another arguably more important level, it is about the persistence of life even in the city's most desolate provinces.

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