Artist Steve Snell visited East Carolina’s campus Oct. 26 to speak with students and faculty about his journey from art student to professional. Snell earned a B.F.A. in Painting and a B.S. in Art Education from Miami University in 2006. He continued his education at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst where he earned a M.F.A. in Studio Art in 2011. He has taught at schools in Alaska and Nebraska and is currently an Assistant Professor of Art at the Kansas City Art Institute.
After graduating from Miami University, Snell moved to Alaska for two years. He taught at a local school and lived on a floating house in the Yakutat Harbor. Snell lived in a vibrant environment surrounded by wildlife and untouched beauty which he utilized in many of his paintings. He was also influenced by pop culture as well as the myth of the west and the history of the United States. Snell returned to school at UMass in 2008 where he used his time in Alaska as a starting point for his work.
The summer going into his last year at UMass, Snell had the idea to build a floating couch while at a party with friends. He said this the couch was based on the floating house in Alaska. Using 2×4 wood scraps he found in a dumpster from someone’s thesis project, Snell began working on a project he thought would take a week. It ended up taking a few months.
However, those few months were not ill spent. They led him to discover what he coined as “adventure art.” Snell split adventure art into two different qualifications: “Creating an experience for yourself and others” and “using your art practice to create a compelling image of that story,” he said. Snell also defined adventure as taking on the unknown and risking failure.
In September of his final year at UMass, a faculty member told Snell that although his couch boat may not be art, what he does with it could be. This conversation was a turning point for Snell. He completed his couch boat project by paddling down a very accessible and popular 10-mile portion of the Connecticut River. He became a local news headline and decided to use the experience to influence his senior thesis.
Snell decided to recreate a hero’s quest typically found in fairy tales and stories by hiking 88 miles from Mt. Greylock to his studio at UMass. “The idea of going into the wilderness seeking enlightenment is the formula of a hero’s quest.” He was totally disconnected. By leaving all technology except a camera behind, Snell experienced something that rarely happens now-a-days, a complete disconnect from the digital world.
After graduating, Snell pursued and refined adventure art in Spartanburg, SC at HUB-BUB art gallery. He also had the opportunity to pass along his passion for adventure art while teaching in Nebraska. Snell taught a class where he guided his students in their own adventure art projects. Although he doesn’t have any big adventure art plans in the works, he’s always refining his skills and learning new things. He’s currently learning rotoscope, a drawing technique typically used by animators.
Snell said that while in his second year at UMass, they threw him off of any kind of stable idea of what he was doing as an artist and broke his confidence. He turned this time in his studies around and reflects on it now as positively affecting him in the long-run. “I made a lot of terrible work… I think that’s good sometimes to make bad art because sometimes it leads you to interesting ideas later on,” said Snell.
Examples of Steve’s work and documentaries can be found on his website: www.steve-snell.com.
-By Catherine Lochner, candidate for the B.S. in Communication