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V. Douglas Snow

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V. Douglas Snow

(Salt Lake City, UT, 1927 - 2009, Teasdale, UT)

Before leaving Utah in 1950, Henry Rasmusen--an early modernist--identified 12 young artists who were attempting to "express themselves in fresh new ways, to create, not in a language appropriate to a past generation, but according to their own vision and times." He included Douglas Snow as one of these young artists. Forty-five years later, Douglas Snow has fulfilled his early promise. He combines his personal vision with the skills of an experienced artist in works that speak to a broad range of people. Snow was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1927. He completed his first painting, entitled View of the City at Dusk, at the age of 14. In 1945, he entered the piece in the Utah State Institute of Fine Arts annual exhibition. His painting sold immediately, and Snow established himself in a studio in the Portland Cement and Saltair Offices Building in downtown Salt Lake City. When the work of nationally known artists was exhibited at the 1947 Salt Lake Fairgrounds Centennial exhibition, Mayor Glade called one artist's work "a product of insanity," which was probably a common attitude at that time. Snow, 19 at the time, wrote a letter to the mayor, challenging his unthinking rejection of something he clearly did not understand. In response, the mayor apologized and stated that other points of view on modernism could be held by citizens who were mentally well balanced. After high school, Snow studied at the University of Utah from 1943-1945, majoring in theater. He also studied art with LaConte Stewart and Lee Greene Richards. While at the "U", Snow wrote and had several plays preformed. In 1946, he moved to New York's American Art School and studied there and at Columbia University under Hans Mueller and Robert Brackman. A year later, Snow transferred to the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. At Cranbrook, Snow rapidly finished a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master of Fine Arts in 1949 and 1950. That same year, Snow was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. After coming back to the United States in 1951, Snow had a one-man show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco and one in Santa Barbara, which resulted in an invitation to teach a seminar at Stanford in 1952. From 1952-1954, he taught at Wayne State College Detroit, before taking an appointment at the University of Utah. Following an exhibit in Los Angles, Snow was featured in Life magazine in an article and a full-color spread. The article hailed him as a prominent American Artist of the year. Douglas Snow was chairman of the University of Utah art department from 1966-71 and was instrumental in presenting important art displays at the University. Among the exhibited artists was Andrew Wyeth, Robert Motherwell, Ben Shahn, Stuart Davis, Abraham Rattner, and Rico Le Brun. Snow and Alvin Gittins--chairman from 1957-63--brought in outstanding contemporary artists and opened the art department to major modern influences, much as Calvin Fletcher had done for the Utah State University art department 40 years earlier. An excellent teacher, Snow worked with Gittins on a radio program and a series of lectures on the virtues of stylistic pluralism. Frank Sanguinetti, Director of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, said what impressed him most about Douglas Snow as a teacher, was his "unusually broad cultural interests in architecture, music, literature, social issues, and the ways in which an understanding of the arts could make life more valuable. . . . surely a teacher with rich personal resources." Considered one of the most exciting and dynamic painters of the West, he ranks among the most significant influencers of the Utah modernist school. His work is described both as Abstract Expressionism--with the stipulation that it is not the typical avant-garde abstract expressionism--and also as Academic Abstract Impressionism. Whatever one chooses to label his works, it is clear his paintings are a successful marriage of several styles, and the resultant art works are both powerful and also individualistic. Snow has works in many public and private collections throughout the United States including New York's Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, the Springville Museum of Art, and the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University. He is best known in Utah for his murals at the Salt Lake Public Library, at the University of Utah graduate school of Social Work building, at the Pioneer Theatre, at the Salt Lake International Airport, and at Iron Blossom Lodge, Snowbird. In 1976, Snow became the Director of Art at the University of Utah/Snowbird Summer Arts Institute. About painting murals, Snow said, When an artist accepts a public commission or one intended for viewing by a diverse public, he must be profoundly concerned with the need to communicate. This is not to suggest he should be obvious or patronizing. Quite the contrary. His conception may even prove difficult to verbalize. But after a short period of time the work will become, through familiarity, an accepted part of its surroundings. And precisely because of this, it must be capable of sustaining its interest, its power to contribute and to remain critical to the quality and beauty of the architectural space. From the film V. Douglas Snow, Painter: The contemporary Landscape. Snow says that he has become extremely integrated with landscape. He gradually withdrew from teaching, and now he and his wife Susan live full time in their studio home near Capital Reef. Although he takes occasional slides and makes sketches and notes, Snow basically paints from memory, using his knowledge and extensive experience, including looking at the view outside his window, to provide the information he needs. Since nature isn't too organized, he doesn't believe in imposing too tight an order on her. He believes it is vital for artists to re-evaluate, so as not to paint with today's awareness using yesterday's approaches and tools. Talent can be an old habit, he declares. When painting, Snow says that after sketching loosely, he lays out a grid over the painting, and does one section at a time. He retains a sense of the whole painting, but finds he is more spontaneous than when he tries to work the whole painting at once. The painting doesn't lose its sense of organization; he can do an area, then melt into the next area, and then the next. Using this approach he is able to work quickly, sometimes finishing a large painting in a week. Snow tries to view each painting "as a kind of extravagant adventure." He likes his paintings to have a certain firmness because if a structure feels strong, it can take a lot of improvisation and can become an authentic extension of himself and not just another painting. In 1991, he wrote of his desert paintings, "These paintings are far more literal than the uninitiated might suppose; and my mind and my emotions move freely between painting essentially what I see and intensifying what I feel." Snow says he doesn't worry about the art world's view except in his teaching at the university. He believes staying alive and staying curious is valuable, as is pushing a painting to the point where you have to come to grips with the reason for its existence. Artists must be courageous and be willing to move beyond what looks pretty good and push the work far enough that it emphatically embodies the intention. Snow likes some of his painting to be luxurious, to be great visual entertainment and enjoyment. He also hopes his work will promote individual reflection. Snow's painting Desert Landscape "speaks to the desert in all of us--the sense of infinity, power, compression and release that can come from the desert." For Snow, "the landscape is both subject and vehicle." His paintings are alive with light, and they embody his subjects, which vary from the peculiar world of the high Southern Utah desert--where geology is more fantastic than our imagination--to the magical mix of other-worldliness and stubborn duration of Venice, as the paintings "shift from reality to abstractionism and back again." Dibble, George S. "Salt Lake Art Center Show Focuses on Prominent Utah Artist" The Salt Lake Tribune, 14 December, 1986. B 3 Olpin, Robert S. 1980. Dictionary of Utah Art Salt Lake City: Paragon Press Sisemore, Claudia. 1978 V. Douglas Snow, Painter: The contemporary Landscape. Film. Snow, V. Douglas, and Frank Anthony Smith. Conversation Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, and William C. Seifrit. 1991. Utah Art Layton: Gibbs Smith V. Douglas Snow, To Be In This Country. University of Utah Press and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. 1994. Salt Lake City. Catalog

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