Big Nature: Steve Snell’s Boat Show
Steve Snell is an artist interested in history, myth, and what he refers to as big nature. And though Snell hasn’t officially defined the term, a look at his art practice will give you the gist: living within, communing with, and drawing inspiration from the experience of adventure within nature. Snell has lived in a small house boat in Alaska, he’s hiked across the state of Massachusetts in search of inspiration (finding Alec Baldwin along the way), he’s trekked with his own art students in Nebraska, and he’s floated a couch boat down miles of the Connecticut River in nothing more than denim cutoffs and a coon skin cap. Simply put, Steve Snell is brother nature and we’re lucky he is also an artist. His exhibition Boat Show is a love letter of sorts to the big wild that has inspired his professional practice and his body of adventure-art.
Adventure-art feels like the best way to describe Snell’s multifaceted approach to art making. Through his interdisciplinary practice, Snell reflects upon tropes of self-sufficiency and rugged masculinity, the exploration of North America, and the reality that for most of us, big wild is something we experience in an indirect and heavily mediated way. Snell describes his style of art making as a two part process, “The first part of adventure-art is all about creating an exciting and unusual life experience. The second part of adventure-art is the image of that experience.” Boat Show is the confluence of each of Snell’s various tributaries of creation.
Entering the space, viewers are immediately pulled into the majesty and comedy of Snell’s boats. His wooden couch boat and cardboard replica of Lewis and Clark’s keelboat join a giant, seaworthy pretzel. Each boat is fit for the water but embraces a certain level of humor, a levity that bridges the gap between water vessel and object: each piece holds its own simply as sculpture. Encircling the boats are Snell’s two-dimensional works (and one impossibly cute wooden pretzel fit for the mantle of a home or the walls of a brewery) that cover the adventure-art spectrum. Meticulously painted pixelated portraits of Lewis and Clark meet dreamy watercolors of Snell’s “Snacks on the River,” a series born from his observations of the found objects, natural ephemera, and snacks experienced on river adventures. In one of the pieces, Snacks on the River: Gummi Bears at Sunset, a delightful line of gummy bears hover in the center of a hazy minimal sunset. This series expresses well the levity inherent to Snell's work: where breathtaking sunsets meet unfettered skylines so too there are whimsical gummy bears, pretzels, and crushed beer cans.
Another stand out piece in this show is Snell’s life size bear. Rendered in ink, Magenta Bear #2 is overwhelming in scale and realism, but again there is a lightheartedness. Where viewers meet a life size bear they also meet the humor of monochrome magenta whipped into tactile wisps with glints of teeny metallic bits embedded in the ink. This bear dominates, but he also makes you smile.
Throughout the show the space is tied together with different plays on Snell’s dizzy pixelations. Taking images from history and the American west, Snell fractures and shatters the images and reassembles them in different ways. Ranging from the checkerboard composition of Jolly Flat Boatman On Fire to the cleverly distorted Two Clarks, viewers embark on their own journey of deciphering and discovering what they’re truly looking at.
Boat Show provides an opportunity to briefly escape into the wilderness and to journey with Snell all over North America. Alongside his trio of boats, we as viewers become part of his fleet setting off together and disseminating from the confluence down his varying creative streams. So strap on your boots, gather your oars, and join him in The Drawing Room because as Snell says, “There are enough snacks on the river for anyone who wants them.”