Traverse Classics: Rufus Snoddy's Journey North

With his daughter tucked into her bed, Snoddy is back in his studio, in front of the vibrant collage with the running figure and the moon. Sturdy and well-built, the artist's easy laughter and gentle manner are counterpoints to what's brimming underneath. He points to the figure: "That's me – visceral. Being out on a limb. That whole feeling of being insecure and raw and my insides exposed and all that kind of stuff."

It has been a rocky several years for Snoddy, who turned 60 in 2007. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years after he moved to Northern Michigan. He was treated successfully at the University of Michigan Hospital in 2004 and has regained his energy. He and Robynn closed their Diaspora Gallery when she took a new job, and they moved to East Lansing. Their house went on the market and didn't sell for months, and then the new job didn't work out.

They returned to Williamsburg, his wife eventually found another job, and Snoddy has done a mural or two, taught some art classes, worked in a friend's casting foundry and continued making his art. But with tough economic times in Michigan and a relatively small market with loads of artists and few who can make a living at it full-time, Snoddy's hurdles have been many. Robynn, who grew up in the area, acknowledges the ups and downs have tested their marriage. "It's very hard to keep up the artistic and aesthetic issues when there are economic issues looming every day. We know we are like so many people up here who are just trying to live in a place they love. We want it to work but it's tough trying to keep body and soul together."

Snoddy loves the surroundings, the lakes, the changing of the seasons, the textures. "My work has always been about texture. There's a huge well of textures to pull from. So that's had a really profound effect on me."

As an African-American artist in these parts, Snoddy has felt the sting of racism, something he left behind early in life, in East Texas, before his family moved to Los Angeles. Snoddy, the 10th of 12 siblings, was 11 years old when his father was run out of town by his employer, who accused him of organizing for the NAACP. But Snoddy does not define himself as a black man, just a man, and spent 15 years living in an all-white commune in West L.A. "with a bunch of millionaires who were into sailing and traveling around the world," he says. "It was not my life, it was more about stuff. I'm human – more interested in the human condition."

Until his Michigan transition, Snoddy's creativity has always been fueled by California's urban angst, energy, ethnic diversity and his collaboration with other artists. He finds himself far more introspective, which is the subject of the series, "Innerspaces," he's created since moving to and from East Lansing. "It's more talking about what's going on inside of me – inner impulses, the inner changes. The juxtaposition of me being here as opposed to being there."

The artist doesn't necessarily see the adjustment as negative, but it's definitely challenging. "I still have that kind of edgy desire in terms of my work, and I want to do edgy things, but you look around and everybody's doing really kind of sedate stuff. Even people who've got their toes kind of out of the circle, their work is a little bit tame. It's kind of a social pressure, day to day, to conform to that. Kind of like, tone it down. Mellow out a little bit."

Don't miss Rufus Snoddy's current exhibit at Traverse City's Dennos, March 10- June 02, 2013

Article Comments

  • tcartistsdaughter

    I liked the liked the parts about me. But Ill give you a different perspective. I was in my third grade class. I was dosing off, and my throat was sore. I went to the point I couldn’t stand it! So I called him. He was at an interview so I watched my little t.v from the 50’s or somthing. When he was done with the interview I recovered quickly. I enjoyed my afternoon with him.

    In other news;

    I am having a HUGE birthday party on may 16- 2008!