Interview with Steve Snell, by Jennifer Palmer
Published: Vol. I, Issue III
Date of Interview: April 24th, 2016
You have lived in several places do you have a favorite place out of them?
Yes, Alaska. Specifically, I lived on a float-house in Yakutat Bay for nine months. I had to paddle to the house from shore via a big, blue canoe. There was no running water and it was cold a lot of the time, but it did have a sauna. I saw grizzly bears from my bed and was chased one time by sea lions. I sometimes saw the Northern Lights.
Current place of residence?
Kansas City, Missouri.
How does location influence your artwork?
Significantly. I usually shape both the action and image of my adventure work directly from the history, geography, and communities in which they take place. It usually takes a while to really start and learn about a place and find/develop relevant and meaningful work that responds to it.
How did education play a role in your development?
I know I would be where I am today without the help and influence of mentors and educators all along the way. There would be no ‘adventure-art’ without graduate school. Maybe a float-couch would exist, but not necessarily the same image and action of adventure to accompany it. Plus, I have now been teaching for almost a decade myself, either in K-12 or in higher ed. I find this role beneficial to my own creative pursuits and sensibilities. I learn a lot from my students.
What is your definition of Adventure Art?
Simply put, the first part of adventure art is all about using your art practice to create unusual, unexpected, and meaningful experiences for yourself and others. I mean adventure in the sense that you take on an unknown and risk failure. The second part of of adventure art lies in the image of that adventure, utilizing whatever media is most appropriate or available to share your story.
Did you always see yourself as an artist?
No. It has taken me a while to start to consider myself one. I am one now, I think. I just like to make things and do things.
Who influenced you as an artist?
My artistic influences range from Joseph Beuys to Marty Stouffer. I like a good story. There are plenty of others whose work I admire: Mark Dion, Omer Fast, Candice Breitz, Manet, Gerhard Richter, Errol Morris, and Werner Herzog to name a few.
How did movies play a role in your art?
Movies have been a big inspiration for my art. Especially westerns and the Davy Crockett series starring Fess Parker. I often think of adventure art in a cinematic sense. Like, using your work to create movie-like experiences for yourself or at least presenting the image that life is one.
Do you like to collect anything?
I tend to collect cardboard tubes. I would like to build a life-size log cabin out of them some day.
Out of the residences you have done do you have a favorite? How did the experiences at the residencies shape your work?
Not sure if I would say I have a ‘favorite’. Each has been a gift in one sense or another. I made some of my best friends at the HUB-BUB residency in Spartanburg, SC. I also met my wife at the gallery there. One of my residency friends came with me on the National Park’s Chilkoot Trail residency in Canada and Alaska. The experience provided some of the most memorable days of my life. The various locations, people, and time provided by residencies influence my work directly through collaboration, experience, subject matter and imagery.
What is your most important artist tool?
My eyes are probably my most important tool. Careful looking.
What is one item you could not work without in your studio?
Could you describe your artistic process?
My process begins by responding to my immediate surroundings and interests. I conduct research by reading books, watching movies, meeting people, and hearing stories. Over time, a good idea usually emerges. I also constantly paint and make things, some of which are really bad, but that is okay, because I usually figure something out that way. Eventually, I am able to dream up an adventure, which then requires a lot of logistical planning and organizing. The adventure itself is the fun part. It can take me years afterward to really go through everything created and collected and make sense of it in visual forms. I am constantly making and remaking things.
How has your practice changed over time?
I used to identify strictly as a painter, painting mostly images from movies and TV. Then, I made a video. A few years later, I mostly made videos and a few paintings. Then, I started going on adventures (often influenced by movies) with videos and paintings that either inspire or reflect those experiences.
Adventure art used to be just about my own experience and image of adventure. Over time, it has evolved into more a collaborative experience between myself and others.
Your work has a collaborative element to it and what role does the audience play when you are in the planning stages of your projects?
Audience plays an important role in the work. There are different audiences for different aspects of each project. The audience for the experience of adventure are often collaborators in the experience itself as well as in the production of its image. The audience of the artifacts (paintings, videos, etc.) is there to see/hear a good story.
What is the message you hope that the audiences will take away from your art?
There does not need to be a clean separation between art and life. You can live a creative lifestyle and find meaningful experiences anywhere. Also, American history is complicated.
What is your workspace/ studio like?
It’s a bit small, but I like it. I keep the Float Couch there and also the cardboard one, which is almost done.
The artist’s workspace.
If there was one thing you wanted people to know about your work what would it be?
That I am serious even though my work may be humorous at times.
What advice would you give artists starting out?
Be persistent and be okay with rejection and failure. I’m 10 years in and I still get way more rejections than acceptances. Also, make work that you enjoy. Don’t try too hard to make ‘art’. Be nice to people.
What project or projects are you currently working on?
I am currently building a cardboard replica of Lewis and Clark’s keelboat from 1804-1806. I plan to float down part of the Missouri River in it.
If you weren’t an artist what would you like to be?
A mountain man.
What is your dream adventure?
I want to go to both the Arctic and Antarctic before I die or before they melt. I also want to live on a desert island for a while.