Since 2007, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit has invited children and their caregivers to create together during Family Days. This Sunday, kids will have the extraordinary opportunity to paint with noted local artist Gilda Snowden. Snowden is a Kresge Arts Fellow whose Flora Urbana series is currently on display as part of MOCAD’s Art X Detroit show. (She’s also an avid and observant chronicler of the local art scene; check out her wonderful Youtube channel for more than 400 videos she’s taken at gallery shows and other events.) Having studied under some of the original Cass Corridor artists in the late ’70s, Snowden is offering a workshop called “Learn to Paint the Cass Corridor Way.” I asked her about her relationship to the Cass Corridor art movement and what participants should expect out of the workshop. (For background on the movement, check out this essential essay by Wayne State art historian Dora Apel.)
Matthew Piper: I understand your first solo show took place in 1981 at the Willis Gallery, which is well-known as the gallery that exhibited a great deal of work by artists now retrospectively identified as Cass Corridor artists. What was that time like? Whose work was inspiring you?
Gilda Snowden: To say the least, it was a very exciting time for my friends and I, who were studying art right in the midst of the corridor. Several of our instructors were Cass Corridor artists; we saw their shows at the Willis and the Feigenson Galleries, and later at Susanne Hilberry Gallery. Imagine a young artist working in New York in the early 1950s, surrounded by the leading Abstract Expressionists like Pollock, DeKooning, Rothko. That is how it was with us. The different generations were all in the same room, as it were.
I missed the first “wave” of shows at the Willis in the late ’60s and early ’70s as I was still in public school; I didn’t enter into the scene until 1975, when I took my first painting class. I was able to catch up quickly because our instructor, John Egner, took our class to shows around town and introduced us to artists like Michael Luchs, Robert Sestok and Allie McGhee. What was MOST special were trips to see the works of the Cass Corridor artists in the collection of Jim Duffy. Egner took our class to Mr.Duffy’s condo in Grosse Pointe, where we saw Sestok’s work hanging in close proximity to a Braque! This was the object lesson that was most valuable, because here was a collection that had gems of 20th Century art hanging in the same room as Cass Corridor! And then the summer of 1978, when I spent every day drawing at Duffy’s Warehouse, was very influential on my work. I saw the beauty in ordinary objects, and used them as visual fodder for my subsequent works in painting and drawing.
MP: When I look at Cass Corridor paintings, I see such variety. What tendencies are emblematic to you of the Cass Corridor style? What sorts of techniques are you interested in imparting to participants at the upcoming family day?
GS: I have chosen some very basic themes for the Family Day workshop. The Cass Corridor “style” of painting is everything. Just as Abstract Expressionism can be defined by artists as visually different as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, so can Cass Corridor works be defined by artists as varied as Michael Luchs and Aris Koutroulis.
GS: We will choose familiar objects and then “render” them in ways that acknowledge the materials and paint. By working in and on cardboard we will pay homage to the artists who had to create, even though they didn’t often have the finest materials at their disposal.
Learn to Paint the Cass Corridor Way takes place this Sunday, April 17, from noon to 4 p.m. at MOCAD; 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit; (313) 832-6622; mocadetroit.org. Admission is free.