Among the most reliable harbingers of spring in greater Lansing are snowdrops, crocuses and the comforting sight of Brian Snyder in a paint-spattered smock, dabbing al fresco at his latest canvas.
It’s a tad early for blooms, but in the meantime, art lovers eagerly awaiting the spring can soak up the bold shapes and vivid colors of “Fleur Jardin,” Snyder’s latest collection of dot-matrix paintings.
Snyder’s work has gone through several phases over the years, from hypnotic, abstract patterns to pop-art images of dogs and other commercial work, but “Fleur Jardin” is a new approach, a splashy fusion of graphic design and fine art.
During a summer 2022 visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, he was mesmerized by the close-up floral paintings of Georgia O’Keefe.
Inspired, he went home and created a 20-foot-long painting, “Fleur Jardin,” for the ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids. In August, he started working on an entire show of the same theme, with the same name, merging O’Keefe’s bold vision with his own dot-matrix style. He’s finished 21 canvases so far, and 11 of them are on display at Hooked café and bookshop.
He starts by underpainting the canvas with several layers of flat colors, a tedious but crucial process that’s necessary to get the flowers to shimmer the way he likes. To dab on the finished matrix of dots, he uses acrylic and enamel paints that give the surface a glassy sheen. He sometimes uses the tip of an ink pen or a brush without bristles to “plop” the fine dots onto the canvas.
“The effect is almost like a mosaic,” he said. “Once it dries, it not only shines, but it gives life to the texture.”
It’s obvious at a glance that he wasn’t interested in sticking to natural colors.
“I’ve never seen an orange rose, and I’ve never seen tulips that color,” he said, waving at a nearby wall. “Maybe if you go to Holland — they’re all over the place.”
One of the tulips is sort of chartreuse, and the colors of the other two have no known name. What’s that about? At first, he explained that he wanted a strong contrast between the flowers and backgrounds, but after a pause, he confessed he wanted to “just throw you off a little.”
One of the paintings, a floating extravaganza of multicolored roses, is dedicated to his mother, Willine Snyder, who died late last year.
“Roses were her favorite,” he said.
Snyder’s painstaking dot process would drive many artists up the wall, but he finds it akin to therapy in his busy schedule.
In the mornings, he works as a student support specialist with kids from kindergarten through eighth grade at Gardner International Magnet School in Lansing. Most afternoons and nights, he coaches basketball at Olivet College. In all, he’s spent 22 years coaching basketball at Spring Arbor University, Great Lakes Christian College and Lansing Community College.
“Basketball has always been a big part of my life,” he said.
Things can get pretty intense at Olivet, where Snyder is hip deep in every aspect of practice sessions and games as assistant men’s varsity coach and head junior varsity coach. The season lasts more than seven months, and workdays often run until 9 p.m. or later. In his first few years of coaching, he concentrated on the game and didn’t paint at all.
“I’d come home from a losing game, sit and be miserable for a couple of days,” he said.
He eventually found that sitting down at the easel helped him calm down, stay productive and let his subconscious work on his problems.
“After a loss, you come home and think, ‘How can I get those kids motivated?’ They just don’t get it,” he said. “Instead of going crazy thinking about it, I paint.”
He’s also in the thick of a demanding program of study for a doctorate in kinesiology at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He’s long been fascinated with the physiology of human movement, but these days, he’s focusing more on the psychology of sports. His current vade mecum is “Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence,” by sports psychology expert Gary Mack.
“I want to work with teens and other athletes and help them improve their mental focus, overcome fear and so forth,” he said.
He finds that athletes and artists have a lot of challenges in common. They both face periods of shaky confidence, flagging determination and wandering focus.
The biggest difference, he said, is that athletes compete against others, but artists compete against themselves (ArtPrize notwithstanding).
“Sometimes you’re not feeling good about a painting you’re working on, or you just get tired,” he said. “You have to build that mental fortitude just to push yourself through.”
Despite his busy schedule, Snyder is itching to set up shop again in Turner Park.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “I’ll be out there as soon as it gets warm.”
The park is a few steps away from the loft he’s used as a home and studio for 15 years, perched above Katalyst Art Gallery & Gift Boutique.
“Having a loft in Old Town, being an artist, is a perfect feeling,” he said. “I get the westside sun coming in, and it’s really inspirational.”
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