Outside, it’s one of those glacial late-winter Albuquerque afternoons, everything gray. But the living room of enamel artist David Snow is full of natural golden light. From the rustic wood of his end tables to the fabric of his homey-yet-stylish couch, the room seems suffused with warmth. Snow, with intelligent blue eyes that often seem amused, is quick to point out the room’s dominant feature and source of the luminosity—a brass and enamel wall panel, four feet by five, hanging above his sofa and scattering sunlight from its assemblage of gleaming metal strips. It’s the work of Snow’s partner of 10 years, Craig Ruwe, whose death from cancer in 2004 transformed Snow’s life.
“His death destroyed me,” says Snow in a painfully matter-of-fact voice. At 35 years of age, without his longtime partner, “I kind of didn’t know what to do with myself.” Although he was the owner of Fuse Arts gallery in Madrid, NM and had spent the last decade “folding clothes and watching Craig make art” in their home’s combined studio/laundry room, Snow had never before worked with enamel.
He began to teach himself. Having seen Ruwe at work for so many years, he had an idea of what to do. “I walked into his studio and I made my very first piece of enamel work and it sold to a woman in Australia.” He smiles, sounding still half proud and half amazed at the feat.
But Snow is quick to reflect on the gratitude he feels for the way his career has turned out. “Becoming an enamel artist,” says Snow, “helped me to remain close to my late partner, and it gave me a voice in my life.”
Since then, Snow has transformed into a successful artist in his own right. His works revolve around a simple act: using heat to fuse glass onto copper. The resulting enameled sheets—often squares and rectangles, but not always—are arranged according to Snow’s own visual logic. In “Midnight,” an abstract cityscape of slender buildings scrolls across a long blue sky. “My Sweet” and “Be Mine” are shimmering grids of repeating squares with a painted flower tile at the center. Enamel’s capacity to capture and transform light is showcased in “It Starts with Blue.” The piece handles light in a way that feels independent of color, shining it back from tiles that are coppery-beige as much as from jewel tones, refracting it in the glass lines crossing each tile’s surface.
Alongside colorful steel wall sculptures by Dan Garrett, these and other enameled copper artworks by Snow will be on display (and for sale) at Sumner & Dene all this month. The dual show, gallery owner Roy Sumner Johnson’s brainchild, is the second appearance together for the two artists. While Snow’s luminous panels could never be mistaken for Garrett’s vivid statement pieces, the works complement each other nicely. Besides an interplay of metal and color, both exhibit a sense of pragmatic craftsmanship, a desire to make a creative virtue of any material’s aesthetic quirks.
For Dan Garrett, a metal worker whose bold steel sculptures combine unpredictable dimensionality with graphic geometric forms, that means using every means necessary to coax fathoms of texture from his surfaces. Speaking with me by phone from Oklahoma City, where he lives and works when not living part-time in Albuquerque, Garrett describes his process in a friendly drawl that belies the intensity of his methods. He first prepares the metal and then layers on “acrylic paint, the cheaper the better, because I torture it.” That “torture” consists of manipulating his coats of color with acid, abrasion, compressed air, a torch, “and other cruel devices”—Garrett says he goes through 10 or 12 layers “before it starts looking like I want it to.”
Garrett describes this process as a “collaboration” between himself and his materials. It’s what makes a work like the formidable “Oazo” so satisfying to look at. Two red blocks of steel are offset around a green pod-shape and a mass of crinkled metal strips suggesting water. Thanks to its bulk and the vibrancy of its color, the piece already packs a visual wallop, but the pitted, flecked patina charging across its face adds something more subtle, as though it’s an artifact of America’s mysterious industrial past.
“I really love art that can grab you from a distance and draw you in,” says Garrett, but acknowledges that the initial impact can’t be everything: “I try to have a surprise waiting.” His sense of playful detail emerges as a viewer approaches a piece and views it from different angles—how his primary colors are always “a shade or two off,” or how contrasting colors lurk in half-hidden crevasses, or the way a surface that had seemed flat and restrained comes jutting out organically.
For this year’s show, Garrett has fully embraced found objects. In “See the USA,” for example, the focal point is a simple Chevrolet hubcap. He notes that with a piece like this, some people would swoon, but “some won’t touch it because it’s not a Ford hubcap.” Still, “When you can find these old pieces that were destined for a crusher,” whether it’s hubcaps or diamond tread or an electrical conduit, “that’s a pretty amazing thing to be able to do.”
The unpretentious atmosphere of Sumner & Dene, a Downtown gallery that’s been specializing in upbeat, accessible artwork for the last nine years, is the perfect no-pressure setting to enjoy the works of David Snow and Dan Garrett throughout March.