Art Review: Opposite Shores – Eric Barth and Carol Snyder at the Keny Galleries
If this pandemic has offered us anything of benefit, it’s been ample time to consider our sense of place. For some this has come in the form of imagining the places they love while looking forward to the chance to return. For others, it’s meant being more attentive and attuned to those places they can go. Whether it’s noticing seasonal changes on neighborhood walks, visiting local parks, or taking day trips to enjoy what spaces we can, this last year has served to heighten our collective appreciation for the relatively small corner of the world we inhabit.
For evidence of this trend, look no further than social media. Feeds that were once clogged with images from busy restaurants, packed concerts, and clusters of celebratory friends now feature a steady stream of Metro Parks, spring flowers, and the neighbor’s dogwood tree. To be sure, this is not a bad thing. One need not have read and championed Jenny Odell’s How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy to understand that we’d all be a little better off if we paid a bit more attention to our immediate environments.
Enter Eric Barth and Carol Snyder; two artists who’ve taken advantage of the last year to craft a collection of works that examine the spaces we inhabit, and in so doing, elevate our apperception of them. In Opposite Shores, currently on view at the Keny Galleries, Barth and Snyder present meditations on place that reflect perfectly a year in which time seems to have slowed to a crawl and our world seems to have shrunk. These are works that not only invite attention, they sharpen it.
Over a decades-long career, Barth has developed a version of contemporary Tonalism that is as consistent as it is striking. Working in a method that builds layers of pastels, and incorporates as much scraping and subtraction as addition, the artist crafts subtle landscapes that shimmer just on the edge of abstraction. Calling Barth’s works moody would be an understandable first impression, but misses the fact that they often include some subtle and poignant spark of life; a pinprick of light from distant shore, smoke from a far off fire, a tree, resolute in an otherwise unforgiving landscape. The hope is there, if you look for it.
In this latest body of work, Barth takes a decidedly more literal approach. The landscapes still hold their abstract qualities, but there are more representational markers scattered throughout. Industrial facilities, once merely hinted at, now take on clear shape. Structures that once blended into a hazy atmosphere, now stand solid and modeled. The depth of field is more clearly defined as foreground, middle ground and background emerge into separate and distinct planes. Further, Barth has pushed his palette in a direction that maintains the mood of previous works while providing some dramatic contrasts and surprises.
Barth notes that this last year has offered the chance to reflect on the places in his life; how they’ve shaped him, and how they’re represented in his work today. In Opposite Shores Barth distills recollections from The Flats in Cleveland, the rural landscapes of Central Ohio and the shores of Lake Erie into a visual tribute that is both personal and powerful.
Snyder’s porcelain pieces share all the meditative qualities of Barth’s work, but in three dimensions. Like Barth, Snyder examines and explores her chosen medium to full-effect, highlighting the simple forms, warm translucency and graceful lines that porcelain affords. Further, Snyder’s work seems to exist outside of time, assuming shapes that are both fundamental and timeless, yet executed with such delicacy as to appear fleeting.
Snyder also maintains a keen interest in place, specifically the natural world and the cycles of nature. Works by the artist regularly reference tree lines, fields, marshes, and prairies. In describing her work Snyder is quick to acknowledge the places that inspired her as well as the memories those places hold. Snyder’s most recent work sees her continue to explore the expressive potential of porcelain. This includes the addition of more colors, colored porcelain slips, and a variety of textural approaches. All this serves to further expand the narrative possibilities of her work. This new approach is particularly effective in works like Wild Mustard (small) and September Silver Queen.
Snyder takes a singular approach to representing the world around her. Her expressive use of form, together with judicious use of line, texture. and color (dare we say minimal) give viewers the chance to contemplate the natural environment from a perspective that’s compelling and unique. There’s a world in Carol Snyder’s work, we simply need to take the time to look for it.
In Opposite Shores Barth and Snyder invite us to join them in an examination of place. They ask, through small works that draw us close, that we pay attention to our world. That we notice it. That’s a fine thing, and maybe at some level that’s a thing art is supposed to do. But really, shouldn’t we have been paying attention to all along?
I hope people will see this show and I hope people will keep paying attention to the world we live in. It’s closer than we think, and it’s the only one we have.
Opposite Shores is currently on view at the Keny Galleries, 300 E. Beck St., through May 14, 2021. For more information visit kenygalleries.com.