Written by Michael Duty
A few years ago, I was asked to write a catalogue essay for an exhibition of new paintings by Gordon Snidow. One of the things that I remember most vividly about that project was my surprise at the sheer diversity of Gordon's work. I expected to see highly accomplished interpretations of the American West such as images of cowboys at work and rest, the beauty of the western landscape, and the gritty reality of contemporary ranch life. What I did not expect was a huge painting of an abandoned New Mexico building with brightly colored graffiti scrawled across its walls, or the deeply affecting portrait of two Vietnam veterans down on their luck with their worldly possessions piled in a grocery cart. What I saw in that exhibition was an artist who was not only at the top of his game in terms of technique, but one who was also pushing the limits of a genre in which he had been defined for many years.
Given the fact that Gordon was a charter member of the Cowboy Artists of America and that much of his earlier work had been devoted to modern cowboy life, one might easily consign him solely to the field of western American art. However, if one looks at his entire career, one can see that he has consistently broadened the definition of western art. His cowboys are not the cowboys of Frederic Remington and Charlie Russell; his figures work and live in the same West that he does. They are not a homage to a romantic past, but veterans of a hard day's work in a land that does not go easy on its inhabitants. When one looks at Gordon Snidow's West, one sees the whole picture – the good times, the hard times, the quiet times, and those that are filled with intense action and high drama.
While many people may associate Gordon with the genre of western American art, he has in many ways painted outside the traditionally narrow definition of that genre. For example, he has always focused on the contemporary West, not the historic; he has often chosen the most unromantic or least glamorous of subjects. The people in his paintings are likely to be ordinary ranch hands, not heroic, iconographic figures of a bygone time. He paints women as well as men. Women who work at the same tasks as men and who are just as accomplished in terms of that work.
He is a realistic artist whose paintings often have an abstract quality in the treatment of the foreground or background. He often chooses a focal point that leads the eye of the viewer away from the traditional action of a western scene to contemplate an entirely different aspect of western life. In short, Gordon has always consciously thought about painting beyond the confines of any specific genre or style. His work continues to surprise one, in subject matter, in technique, and in its scope.