“A.O. Chastity,” 2006-07, acrylic and oil on Aluminum, 30″ x 30″
Photo: Courtesy of EVO Gallery
Santa Fe-based painter Gerry Snyder is known, among his select and supportive base, for his mysterious paintings of bulbous, biomorphic figures of indeterminate gender, species or race, that float and lounge in what resemble Old Master landscapes. With titles that are both cryptic and biblical-like Intelligent Design: Kansas, A.O. Chastity (“A.O.” stands for “Abstinence Only”), and The Annunciation-Snyder puzzles out the absurdities in the contemporary collision of politics and religion.
Though the figures amuse and confound, the landscapes look reassuringly familiar: particularly if the expectation is that the world looks like that created by da Vinci, Titian or Watteau. “I never look at or think of the landscape outside my window,” says Snyder. “I work within the tradition of the painted landscape, an artificial arena that people accept as real.” Meant to allow the viewer to find his bearings amidst the indecipherable figures, of late Snyder is morphing the landscape to look “more like the creatures. It’s less and less what you’d call the ‘normal part’ of the paintings.”
Oddly, for the accomplished nature of Snyder’s work (he paints with remarkable delicacy, laying down translucent layers of color) and important supporters like Lawrence Rinder-who refers to Snyder as a “paradoxical outsider” whose work is “more sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and relevant to contemporary issues than that of most of his urbane peers”-and important exhibitions like the 2002 Whitney Biennial, Snyder has exhibited surprisingly little. “It is easy to call me a potentially neurotic artist who can never finish anything enough to show, but I’ve always been pretty convinced I could figure it out; it was just going to take a lot of work.”
Something about this dedicated practice seems rooted in Snyder’s devout Quaker childhood with its emphasis on a direct communion with the divine and a life of “simplicity.” Raised in Idaho, Snyder grew up with no literature other than the bible, but he walked away from a devout practice at 14. “It’s easy to have a belief system and difficult to act on it. I was so conflicted about the gap between what was said and the daily reality of what people achieved. The emphasis on simplicity takes a lot of complexity.”
Though he eventually received a BFA in painting from the University of Oregon in 1986, and an MFA in Art and Media from New York University two years later, the rigors of this early education seem to dominate his drive to rework an idea until an intriguing nugget gives birth – or not – to something that feels “ready” to show to the public. Otherwise, he is content to fill his flat files with drawings and paintings that hold the potential for completed works. “It is important for me to work without thought of showing stuff. Maybe it was being raised in isolation with not much art,” says Snyder. “The places I’m trying to find in art are elusive to me.”
At the moment, Snyder has returned to an idea that first emerged in childhood: opening things up and painting inside of them. “I was always fascinated with the things that surround us. My first painting on an alternative surface was when I was 12 years old. I cut a cereal box apart and made a Jackson Pollock mixed with Jules Olitski.” The inside of a cereal box is “a velvety surface for how it takes paint.” As he prepares for upcoming shows, he is working on, among other things, a painting inside a “mega-box” made of two flattened cereal boxes pieced together. These works are almost ready to show.
Gerry Snyder’s work can be seen at EVO Gallery in Santa Fe, NM. 554 Guadalupe St.
(505) 982-4610 www.evogallery.org