Art Review: Opposite Shores – Eric Barth and Carol Snyder at Keny Galleries

If this pandemic has given us any benefit, it has been plenty of time to reflect on our sense of belonging. For some, this has taken the form of imagining the places they love while eagerly awaiting the chance to return. For others, it’s about being more attentive and listening to the places where they can go. From noticing seasonal changes while walking around the neighborhood, to visiting local parks, or taking day trips to enjoy the spaces we can, this past year has served to heighten our collective appreciation. for the relatively small corner of the world we inhabit.

For proof of this trend, look no further than social media. Feeds that were once cluttered with images of bustling restaurants, crowded concerts and festive groups of friends now feature a steady stream of Metro Parks, spring flowers and the neighbor’s dogwood tree. To be sure, that’s not a bad thing. It is not necessary to have read and defended Jenny Odell’s How to do nothing: Resist the attention economy understand that we would all be a little better off if we paid a little more attention to our immediate surroundings.

Enter Eric Barth and Carol Snyder; two artists who have taken advantage of the past year to create a collection of works that examine the spaces we inhabit and, in doing so, elevate our perception of them. In opposite shorescurrently showing at Kenny Galleries, Barth and Snyder present meditations on place that perfectly reflect a year in which time seems to have slowed down and our world seems to have shrunk. These are works that not only attract attention, but sharpen it.

Over a career spanning decades, Barth has developed a version of contemporary tonalism that is as coherent as it is striking. Working in a method that builds up layers of pastels and incorporates as much scratching and subtraction as addition, the artist creates subtle landscapes that sparkle just on the edge of abstraction. Calling Barth’s works moody would be an understandable first impression, but misses the fact that they often include a subtle, poignant spark of life; a hint of light from a distant shore, the smoke of a distant fire, a tree, resolved in an otherwise unforgiving landscape. Hope is there, if you seek it.

Eric Barth | Asylum | 2020 | Oil pastel and dry pastel on paper | 9” x 8 ¾” | Photographed by Alan Geho

In this latest body of work, Barth takes a decidedly more literal approach. The landscapes retain their abstract qualities, but there are more representational markers scattered throughout. Industrial facilities, once simply spoken of, now take on a clear form. Structures that once blended into a hazy atmosphere are now solid and patterned. Depth of field is most clearly defined when the foreground, midground, and background emerge in separate, distinct planes. Additionally, Barth has pushed his palette in a direction that maintains the mood of previous works while providing dramatic contrasts and surprises.

Barth notes that the past year has been an opportunity to reflect on the places of his life; how they shaped him and how they are represented in his work today. In opposite shores Barth distills memories of The Flats in Cleveland, rural landscapes of central Ohio and the shores of Lake Erie into a visual tribute that is both personal and powerful.

Eric Barth | Online | 2020 | Oil pastel and dry pastel on paper | 2 7/8″ x 4 5/8″ | Photographed by Alan Geho
Eric Barth | Lunar | 2020 | Oil pastel and dry pastel on paper | 9” x 8 ¾” | Photographed by Alan Geho

Snyder’s porcelain pieces share all the meditative qualities of Barth’s work, but in three dimensions. Like Barth, Snyder examines and explores his chosen medium to full effect, highlighting the simple forms, warm translucency and graceful lines that porcelain offers. Moreover, Snyder’s work seems to exist outside of time, assuming forms that are both fundamental and timeless, but executed with such delicacy that they seem ephemeral.

Snyder also maintains a keen interest in place, particularly the natural world and the cycles of nature. The artist’s works regularly refer to lines of trees, fields, marshes and meadows. When describing her work, Snyder quickly recognizes the places that inspired her and the memories those places hold. Snyder’s most recent work sees her continue to explore the expressive potential of porcelain. This includes adding more colors, colored porcelain slats, and a variety of textural approaches. All of this serves to further expand the narrative possibilities of his work. This new approach is particularly effective in work such as Wild mustard (small) and September silver queen.

carol snyder | Wild mustard (small) | 2021 | Turned porcelain, altered at high firing, colored porcelain engobes | 3″ high x 4 ¼” diameter | Photographed by Carol Snyder
carol snyder | September Silver Queen | 2020 | Turned porcelain, colored porcelain slips, the line drawing is incised and encrusted with dye before firing | 5 5/8″ high x 6 ¼” diameter | Photographed by Carol Snyder

Snyder takes a singular approach to depicting the world around him. His expressive use of form, combined with a judicious use of line, texture. and the color (dare we say minimal) gives viewers the opportunity to contemplate the natural environment from a fascinating and unique perspective. There is a world in Carol Snyder’s work, you just have to take the time to look for it.

In opposite shores Barth and Snyder invite us to join them in a review of place. They ask, through small works that bring us together, that we pay attention to our world. Let it be noticed. It’s a good thing, and maybe on some level it’s something art is meant to do. But really, shouldn’t we have paid attention to this from the start?

I hope people see this show and I hope people continue to pay attention to the world we live in. It’s closer than we think and it’s the only one we have.

opposite shores is currently on view at Keny Galleries, 300 E. Beck St., through May 14, 2021. For more information, visit kenygalleries.com.