The Art Students League of Denver diversifies its residencies

A ceramic artwork created by Kevin Snipes, the first participant of the Art Students League of Denver’s BIPOC Artist-in-Residence program. Photo courtesy of Kevin Snipes


Renowned ceramic artist Kevin Snipes will present his work alongside North High School students he mentored during his residency.

For years, ceramicist Kevin Snipes thought his strength as an artist lay in two-dimensional work despite being, as he puts it, a “self-builder.” It was when he learned to love clay in a pottery class in college that his childhood 3D creations – a diorama of a shoebox, boats made from Popsicle sticks and milk cartons – have taken on new meaning. Today, the oven is at the heart of Snipes’ work. His square and angular ceramics tend to be hollowed out, and he paints people’s faces and bodies on either side, incorporating a mixture of patterns and colors.

Snipes’ work draws inspiration from Indian miniature painting and Japanese art, but the Philadelphia-born, Cleveland-raised ceramist incorporates his own investigation of the theme of “otherness,” represented by the curved protrusions that protrude of the main body of his clay creations. . Some take the form of teardrops, a recurring motif in Snipes’ art. “You have this square, which is the mass of people, the whiteness, and then you have this top protrusion which is the blackness,” Snipes says.

The artist, who is black, began thinking about otherness after a classmate suggested he create black-centric art. He questioned this criticism and worked on a thesis that delved into the construction of difference and its necessity for human existence. Although race does not define the artist’s work, the protrusions, square shape, and separate frames for the images are derived from Snipes’ understanding and experience of being an outsider.

A ceramic work of art
One of Kevin Snipes’ ceramic pieces showing a protrusion on the left. Photo courtesy of Kevin Snipes

Denver residents will have the opportunity to view Snipes’ ceramics and the work he helped North High School students create at an exhibit held at the Grant Street location of the Art Students League of Denver ( ASLD). The show, which runs from April 8 through May 22, will be the culmination of ASLD’s inaugural BIPOC Artist-in-Residence (BIPOC AiR) program, a residency reserved for Black, Indigenous, or artists of color. The idea, according to the program description, was “born out of the recognition that artists of color have historically been excluded from many formal art spaces, including artist residencies.”

ASLD leadership hopes the BIPOC AiR program will help students of color feel represented and see that a career in the arts is possible for them. This message has the potential to reach many young artists – since opening in 1987 to create a community for young creatives to thrive, ASLD has grown to accommodate approximately 900 students per month, who participate in courses, workshops and summer camps taught by professional artists.

“The goal of all of our diversity initiatives is to make everyone who walks through our doors feel comfortable,” said Rachel Basye, Executive Director of ASLD. “I believe part of the way to do that is for people to see themselves reflected in the people who teach here and also in the art that is created.”

For North High School students mentored by Snipes (in 90-minute sessions, twice a week, for about a month), seeing their work exhibited alongside that of the professional artist only underscores the possibility of a career in the arts. Each piece will be shaped like a hand-sized teardrop and can be hung on the wall, per Snipes’ instructions. But the images on the teardrop were left to high school students. The snipes encouraged them to research themselves and look at everyday experiences and the power they possess. The tears didn’t have to be grandiose — instead, the project was about empowering teens by “making them happy and helping them understand that they really matter, just who they are,” Snipes says.

According to Basye, the students were captivated by the mentorship and enjoyed Snipes’ various techniques and approaches while working with them. Some students have even included protrusions on their own teardrops, which Basye noticed after taking a peek recently.

Of course, students are not the only ones to benefit from the BIPOC AiR program. The residency, which is a new offshoot of ASLD’s Visiting Artist Series (VAS) program (which brings notable artists to Denver to give masterclasses to members and students), takes place over a period of six to nine months. . Artists receive a private 900 square foot studio at ASLD, a monthly stipend to cover housing, another stipend to cover living expenses, a budget for studio materials and equipment, and the opportunity to conduct workshops, conferences and programs. The program budget is set at $42,800.

The idea is that it’s easier to focus on art when those needs are met. “We believe that art is real work and that artists should be paid for it,” says Tessa Crisman, communications manager at ASLD. This contrasts with other residencies that Snipes, who has led a nomadic life since earning a bachelor’s degree in ceramics and design from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1994, has had: support at all. All the while he felt uncomfortable just being there and faced a “level of hardship just because he was black”.

Snipes has had plenty of good experiences, however, with programs at the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences (a residency in Rabun Gap, Georgia) and the American Museum of Ceramic Art (an exhibition space in Pomona, Georgia). California). They allowed Snipes to work on his art while placing himself among unfamiliar spaces and people – a gesture in his quest to express otherness.

As Snipes investigates the role of the stranger, the BIPOC AiR program is meant to make guest artists feel like anything but. ASLD works with the artist-in-residence to develop opportunities and collaborations related to their work (such as Snipes’ work with North High School students) and encourages its guest artists to make the residency their own through their art and simple presence. This is the same opportunity that ASLD will offer its next resident BIPOC AiR, whose name will not be revealed until this summer. “Other places, sometimes, I felt like a really awkward protrusion,” Snipes says. “I feel very supported here.”

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