Jeff Snell, who creates works in vibrant mixed media, accurately describes his pieces as “windows into volatile spaces.”
He will often begin by just looking at a blank canvas for a long time, before “attacking it abstractly” and applying various materials. Snell takes photographs, manipulates them in Photoshop, and then collages them onto the canvas, where he’ll paint over and around them. He’s constantly experimenting with different techniques while allowing for unintended surprises to happen along the way.
The result is a cohesive juxtaposition of wildly imaginative abstract imagery and soothingly tranquil open spaces, as the canvas shifts between dimensional and textural surfaces. As Snell explains, “The environments have a tumultuous landscape feel — enchanted places with pockets of lushness and calm. But there’s lots of movement and swirling energy in a state of flux, just like real life.
“To me, paintings are all about an act of discovery, and I want to give the viewer just enough information to come up with their own narrative. What’s so enjoyable for me is that I also get to watch the paintings evolve and change. I like to work fast and build layers, and I want the painting to retain a certain spontaneity and looseness, even if the details aren’t refined.”
But when he stops painting, a different part of the artist’s brain takes over. Snell, a professional luthier, also builds gorgeous guitars — using materials like bird’s-eye maple, mahogany, and African ovangkol — with fretboards beautifully inlaid with abalone.
It’s a delicate craft that demands discipline. Asked about these seemingly contradictory processes and passions — loosely created abstracts versus meticulous instrument building — Snell simply says, “I need both.”
He describes himself as analytical and process-oriented: “I’ll sit for weeks with a jeweler’s saw cutting out little animals to inlay in a fretboard. But if I had to do that when I’m painting, I’d go insane — when I’m painting, things have to keep moving along, and I always have to learn a new process along the way. My artwork transitions year by year and decade by decade, and it’s fun to see where it goes.”
Snell, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in art, is also a machinist, a high-end furniture maker, and a specialist in antique furniture restoration. He moved to Asheville late last year from the San Francisco Bay Area. There, he worked with John Phillips Harpsichords, making those complex instruments in a small shop with a multi-year waiting list of clients, including the San Francisco Symphony and the Juilliard School of Music.
In Asheville, he continues using both halves of his brain to further his multiple passions, stating: “It’s what completes me.”
Jeff Snell, Riverview Station #228, 191 Lyman St., River Arts District, Asheville. Open Wednesday through Saturday, 10am-4pm. Snell will have a solo show at Oak Street Gallery (20 Oak St., downtown Asheville) for the month of May, with an opening reception Friday, May 5, 5-7pm. For more information, see jeffsnellart.com, snellguitars.com, and on IG @jeffsnellart and @snellguitars