A Belfast Blog meets: Stephen Snoddy
A Belfast Blog recently spoke to Stephen Snoddy. Currently the Director of The New Art Gallery Walsall, Stephen has been at the helm of a number of leading contemporary arts institutions, and the organiser of a huge number of very successful exhibitions. Born in Belfast and trained as a painter at Belfast College of Art, Stephen Snoddy subsequently continued his postgraduate studies in Manchester before starting his career at the Arnolfini in Bristol. We were keen to hear Stephen’s memories and reflections of Belfast, and we’re going to start with the visual arts.
Stephen Snoddy, tell us a bit about training as a painter in Belfast, and we’d love to know whether you are still painting now?
My 4 years at the Belfast College of Art was a very rewarding and productive experience. I was lucky to be in a talented year with a great bunch of students: Elizabeth Magill, Brendan Kelly, David Fitzgerald who are now in London, Brussels and Dublin. I was productive and throughout I experimented relentlessly through different aspects of formal abstraction. After a long absence – because of concentrating on my gallery career – I returned to painting 3 years ago and right away I was back into it. It seems as if I had been unleashed and that I had used my looking at art over the years to feed back into my painting.
Dare I say it but my Norn Iron accent has stood out in the English ‘art world’ and with a bit of hard work on top it gets you noticed.
Are you influenced by your experience of Northern Ireland?
My painting is not influenced by my experience of Northern Ireland but I am definitely shaped as a person coming from Belfast and this has served me well during my career. Dare I say it but my ‘Norn Iron’ accent has stood out in the English ‘art world’ and with a bit of hard work on top it gets you noticed.
Curator Hugh Mulholland wrote an article recently about the Northern Ireland no-show at the Venice Biennale. He suggests that austerity may not be the principal reason participation has been cancelled.
You cannot underestimate the value of participating in Venice for the enhancement of Northern Ireland’s position in the world – and I mean not only in art terms but the broader political, intellectual and cultural arena.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience of the Biennale and what, if any, you think are the benefits of participation, perhaps not only directly to artists and curators, but also more broadly?
It is a real shame that the ACNI [Arts Council of Northern Ireland], British Council NI and DCAL [Department of Culture Art and Leisure] can’t ring-fence a pot of money to fund a Northern Irish Pavilion – if there is a will there is a way. If Wales and Scotland can do it then it is even more important for NI to achieve it. I have missed one Venice Biennale since 1988 and it was with pride when Northern Ireland had a pavilion as it felt like the visual artists from Northern Ireland had finally arrived on the international stage. Of course this needed to be sustained and there should be a ‘sponsor’ out there to commit to funding it. The work shown in Venice should also return to NI (or England) to be exhibited and that venue becomes a collaborating partner. You cannot underestimate the value of participating in Venice for the enhancement of Northern Ireland’s position in the world – and I mean not only in art terms but the broader political, intellectual and cultural arena.
How would you describe Belfast, to someone who has never visited?
Belfast is a beautiful city (more beautiful than I think its citizens realise). It has the friendliest people in the world with the best pubs and, given what it has been through, an optimism and spirit that is refreshing.
If there’s one thing someone visiting should see/do/read this year – what would it/they be?
Walk from the Art College / MAC to the Ulster Museum – taking all day! Visiting Fenderesky’s, Kelly’s Cellars, the City Hall, The Crown Bar, Lavery’s, Conor Cafe and then get to the Ulster Museum a little worse for wear. To round off the day time this with an evening kick off for an Ulster game at Ravenhill. Then a taxi back to the Hotel for late night drinks.
Do you have a favourite place in Belfast?
I love Botanic Gardens and the Palm House with the Ulster Museum nearby.
Where do you consider home… and why?
I consider Manchester and Belfast to be both my homes. My family live in Manchester but there will always be a piece of my heart and soul in Belfast. You can take the boy out of Belfast…
What are you most proud of?
Sticking at things when sometimes it seems more difficult to carry on. Getting Milton Keynes Gallery up and running from scratch in 18 months and opening with Gilbert & George is a professional highlight.
What are you working on right now?
On a JMW Turner exhibition that incorporates contemporary art alongside the master for Autumn 2017 at the NAG Walsall. On a solo show for Southampton City Art Gallery in February – May 2017 which partners up my work with abstract paintings from the SCAG collection and making sure my garden is in tip top shape for the summer.
Stephen Snoddy’s Links
- The New Art Gallery Walsall
- Belfast College of Art
- Hugh Mulholland article: “Venice and Northern Ireland: No show at Biennale is holding country’s artists and curators back”
- Arts Council of Northern Ireland
- British Council NI
- Department of Culture Art and Leisure
- Kelly’s Cellars
- City Hall
- The Crown Bar
- Conor Cafe
- Ulster Museum
- Milton Keynes Gallery
- Southampton City Art Gallery