Artist Spotlight: Sylvia Snowden

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

For more than five decades, Sylvia Snowden (b. 1942, Raleigh, North Carolina) has created vibrantly abstract works. Her palette ranges from dark and earthy to bright and artificial, and she incorporates textures with undulating forms.

Powerfully executed with vigorous gestural brushwork and aggressive pouring, Snowden’s June 12 (1992), on view in Magnetic Fields, conveys the energy of the artist’s own body in the act of making as well as the states of human relationships. June 12 towers over the viewer at a height of ten feet. Thickly applied paint seems to extend off of the canvas and toward the viewer, prompting questions about the artist’s process and how many gallons of paint were used.

This painting is part of a series honoring the artist’s parents, and was previously on view in an exhibition of Snowden’s work at NMWA in 1992. Titled after her parents’ wedding anniversary, June 12 pays homage to their relationship. About her exuberant use of color in the work, Snowden says, “My mother was attracted to color, and I grew up in a home with the use of strong color.”

Snowden’s improvisational painting style “comes from within, not an outside force to change styles,” says the artist. “Although I am able to paint in different styles, as I learned in the thorough training at Howard University, expressionism is my style. It is a communication between the canvas and me, which is governed by the intellectual and emotional states acting as one, a unification; examination of the subject matter and its treatment, figurative or without figure.”

Snowden earned a BFA and an MFA from Howard University in Washington, D.C. She has served as an artist in residence, visiting artist, and instructor in universities, galleries, and art schools both in the United States and internationally.

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.