IN MEMORIAM | Artist, Filmmaker, Musician Michael Snow Has Died At 94

Michael Snow speaks in Montréal on September 19, 2013 (Photo: Matias Garabedian/CC BY-SA 2.0/cropped)

Legendary experimental filmmaker, artist and musician Michael Snow has died at the age of 94. The Toronto-born artist’s passing was confirmed to media outlets by his representative at the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York.

Snow was born in Toronto on December 10, 1928 to an English Canadian father and Québécois mother — Canada’s classic two solitudes. It was a dichotomy that would shape his early life, with summers spent at his mother’s family home near Chicoutimi. The family moved a great deal during his childhood.

While living in Montreal, his father suffered a work accident that eventually caused total blindness. Age five at the time, Snow would later say that his fascination with sight and vision stemmed from his father’s condition. He attributed his affinity for sound to his mother’s musical gifts.

His contributions to the world of art and music were recognized by artists and institutions around the world, and his death released a flood of statements on social media.

Film

Known throughout the art world, his films have been screened at museums and arthouse theatres worldwide. His most famous work, Wavelength, was created between 1966 and 1967. Wavelength went on to widespread acclaim, and is considered by many critics to be one of the most significant experimental films of all time.

The film was shot using different types of film, and takes place in an office in what looks like one single shot. Critics have dubbed it a noteworthy example of structuralist filmmaking, which looks to reduce movies to their most essential qualities.

It would be the first of several of his films to receive international recognition.

Music

While he’d studied visual arts formally, Snow was a self-taught musician. He became known in Toronto as a jazz musician, and often added to his income with performance gigs in bands and as a soloist, including a four-year stint with the Mike White Imperial Jazz Band, and as an intermission pianist in the days when musicians played in movie houses.

His early music career took him beyond Toronto to Detroit and other cities, where he was exposed to the New Orleans jazz tradition he came to favour. Snow is featured in Don Owen’s 1963 documentary Toronto Jazz.

Despite the fact that he went on to compose, perform and record music internationally, he never learned to read music.

Snow variations on Darn it! by Michael Snow (who also performs) Toronto, 1987.

Art

After studying at Upper Canada College, and later the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, Snow left the city to travel post-War Europe in 1952-53. Snow’s profile as a painter was already rising before he’d graduated from OCA, however. When he returned to Toronto after his travels, he got a job at an animation firm, where he first learned about filmmaking.

He and first wife, painter and filmmaker Joyce Wieland, moved to New York City for several years in the 1960s, where he quickly became a part of the city’s vibrant art and experimental film scene. His works became part of the Anthology Film Archives, and were shown at prominent galleries.

When Snow returned to Toronto in the early 1970s, he was well established in his career. Snow’s work has been showcased in solo shows at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. He was selected for the 1970 Canadian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In New York, he was part of a pivotal 1969 show at the Museum of Modern Art, as well as the Documenta show in Kassel, Germany in 1977.

Along with his decades long career of exhibitions, shows and screenings, the city of Toronto will forever be marked by Snow’s public art structures, including the iconic Eaton Centre geese, and his The Audience, which overlooks fans as they enter the Rogers Centre.

His contributions to Toronto, Canadian and world culture are innumerable. Snow received many honours and recognition, including an honorary doctorate from the Université de Paris I, Panthéon-Sorbonne, in 2004. The Philadelphia Museum of Art mounted his first US museum retrospective in 2014.

To Snow, his trio of disciplines were actually only one. “My paintings are done by a filmmaker, sculpture by a musician, films by a painter, music by a filmmaker, paintings by a sculptor, sculpture by a filmmaker, films by a musician, music by a sculptor … sometimes they all work together,” he is often quoted.

RIP to a uniquely gifted artist.

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