Next week, Traverse City artist Rufus Snoddy goes to the Super Bowl of the modern art world.
“This is one of the best opportunities I’ve had in my life,” he says.
Rufus is a part of Miami Art Week. It brings galleries and high-end collectors from all over the world to south Florida.
When Rufus Snoddy was in art school, he remembers his professor asking him what kind of artist he wanted to be.
“‘Are you a person that just likes to paint beautiful pictures for yourself or your friends,’” Rufus recalls. “’Or, do you think that what you’re doing – do you have something unique to say.”
Rufus tried realism, but he says he got bored with it. Since then, he started making his paintings more like three-dimensional objects rather than paintings on flat, square canvases. He calls them "construction paintings."
“I build surfaces and shapes to paint on,” he says. “I find the square, and the rectangle … repetitious and boring.”
Inside his Traverse City studio, Rufus shows off a series of wings and shields he’s made. Some of them are over five feet tall. These are canvases stretched across wooden frames. But Rufus’ frames are made mostly from sticks and branches.
“If one knows anything about stretching a canvas, it’s done with the same basic process,” he explains. “But … I’m using branches to construct forms.”
He then paints the canvas, but he’ll also add texture to it by drawing shapes and figures with liquid gel from a squeeze bottle. He says he got the idea from studying indigenous people’s art.
“They do these little characters, these little weird animal-like characters on everything,” he says. “They all kind of fit together … like a puzzle piece.”
Rufus Snoddy is 70 years old, and over the course of his life he’s shown at galleries all over the country. But next week will be the biggest of his career. He’s showing about 25 of his pieces in Art Miami, a huge contemporary art fair. The festival takes place during Miami Art Week, and Andres Viglucci says everybody who’s anybody in the contemporary art world is there.
“It’s sort of the Super Bowl of the art world,” he says.
Viglucci is a reporter at the Miami Herald. He says big names like Leonardo DiCaprio come to snatch up art left and right.
“A lot of very wealthy people – collectors from all over the world come here,” he says. “You can see the lines of private jets at Opa Locka Airport, which is … the private airport here, and thousands of people come here for this event every year.”
Miami Art Week is made up of a bunch of different art fairs. Grela Orihuela is the director of Aqua Art – the Art Miami fair where Rufus’ work will be showcased. When she saw Rufus’ work – the materials, the three-dimensionality – she knew it was unique.
“It was something that I thought would work really well at Aqua, because I don’t think people have seen it before,” she says.
Rufus Snoddy says he learned a long time ago that artists are like mirrors of our world.
“We’re not necessarily trying to tell society which way to go,” he says, “but we’re more mirroring what’s going on in society.”
Rufus explains the wings he makes are a nod to the mythological story of Icarus. Infatuated with his ability to fly, Icarus flies too close the sun. The sun melts his wings, and Icarus falls to his demise. Rufus sees similarities with humankind today.
“I think we are flying very very close to the sun,” he says in a figurative sense. “We have the ability to destroy ourselves many times over.”
Rufus says for him, the story is about moderation – to live with moderation in mind.
“We have all these wonderful things, this technology and all this stuff,” he says. “But we should always be mindful of how we use it … whatever is thrilling us today could be killing us tomorrow.”
Rufus Snoddy moved to Traverse City from Los Angeles 15 years ago. He says there wasn’t much of a contemporary art scene then. But that’s starting to change. Rufus shows at Higher Art Gallery, which opened up in downtown Traverse City last year. Since artists need the backing of a gallery to be featured in Art Miami, Higher Art agreed to be that gallery for Rufus. And that makes Rufus smile when he thinks about it.
“Of all the years that I lived in Los Angeles and showed in New York,” he says, “that this little small gallery up here in Traverse City would be the gallery that I would go to that big art fair with ... that’s ironic.”