Claus Michaletz Prize 2020: Jānis Šneiders. - Berlin: Secco Pontanova Foundation, 2021. - 35 p.

"Surfaces with what feels like countless small beige tiles, drawn in perfect vanishing point perspective, lead our gaze as far as the light will go. Only a narrow, dim transition leads to what follows: compact black. It almost seems like it is coming voraciously towards us, enlarging and able to swallow us up in a moment. The area in wich the light wrestles with shadow appears like a deeply calmed battle zone. Wich part wins or whether this state of balance remains frozen for all time is not told in paintings like “ Cave “ ( p.19 ) or “ Edge “ (p.9) by Jānis Šneiders.
With a few strokes and reduced colors, the Latvian artist designs spaces in his oil paintings that a first glance seem like abstract color fields or patterns. Only at second sight, objects and architectural situations become concrete: Whether an elongated basin, a corner, a pillar, a bench or a window – inevitably, tiles and absolute darkness form a contrast, the drama of which is counteracted in a strange, even absurd way by the almost unbearable calm of the scenery.
In their massiveness, the paintings seem like monuments or symbols of the unconscious. Similar to a deep well or an old house where all the furniture is covered with sheets, they evoke a sense of creepiness and trepidation. While the unlit space evokes the uncertainty of what is hidden, the emptiness of the lit area allows the viewer to see how threatening the absence of everything can be. The assessment of space, the projection of experiences made and the application of what has already been learned gain in importance in the face of these manifestations of nothingness.
Jānis Šneiders’ titles appear just as straightforward and simple as the pictures. Bur if you let them take effect for a moment, it becomes clear that even in the words – cave ( p.19 ), window ( p.17 ), island ( p.15 ) – a secret is hidden, our imagination is played with by making the meaning only superficially detectable. Each time, image and title evoke memories, but the associations suffocate for lack of feeding details. Never can we locate, or assign. We read and see something, but understand nothing. By confronting us with this nothingness, Janis Sneiders puts us in a state of limbo in which feelings of attraction and repulsion oscillate. He opens a door in us to the subconscious – and that is fascinating and disturbing at the same time.
Text: Ines Wittneben

Over the past year, Janis Sneiders has become one of the most noticed and talked about young Latvian artists. In his paintings the finest components of everyday life turn into metaphysical realism and his examination of details reveals a whole new, beyond-realistic perspective on life processes. In 2020 Janis Sneiders received Claus Michaletz Prize as the best young Eastern European - Baltic artist, from Secco Pontanova Foundation, thus enabling him to participate with his solo exposition in POSITIONS Berlin 2020 Art Fair. For his solo exhibition “Place” he was nominated for the most prestigious Latvian prize in fine arts – Purvitis Prize 2021. In 2019 he received best Young Painter Award from Nordic and Baltic Young Artist Award, connecting Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Finnish Art Academies.

Your works have a somewhat metaphysical mood.
This has been the case lately. I delve into details a lot, and others see realism in it. I never try to beautify anything, I try to paint with respect to object, no matter what it is, and I’ve realised that it’s impossible.
Painting from nature started to feel like creating a parody of it, and what kind of respect for nature is that? It’s impossible to open a painted door, it’s impossible for bees to pollinate painted flowers. You could say that it’s this “impossibility” that I’ve become interested in, and, with respect for nature, I’ve turned away from nature and started to delve into this interest from a self-created place.

What themes are you interested in?
Mostly those are some kind of details, because I believe that it’s the small things revealing bigger issues. I am interested in fragments, it seems that through them things are talked about much more broadly - for example, if a person is depicted only in fragments, a certain identity is lost. And they can be a king and a peasant at the same time.

Do you tend to stick to one topic and then work in that direction for a long time?
Some themes remain, others simply get filtered, or – quite the opposite – are supplemented with extra layers. Basically, I am interested in different aspects of one thing, the nature of things, and how, on another level, everything can reflect my experience and what I see fills up with myself. I'm also interested in things that cannot be expressed in words. This isn’t something I can simply explain, it would be easier for me to show what it looks like... I was in the USA recently and bought a small booklet with Native American petroglyphs. There I found a drawing with two square brackets that connect to each other, and it was something I had often drawn in my sketchbook before. I found it interesting - for me the brackets symbolized force of attraction, a hug or a kiss.
For the Native Americans this sign is associated with mutual responsibility, and that’s sort of how I always saw it. Lately, I've been interested in ideograms and signs, how they are perceived and how I see them myself. I like to discover the moment, when multiple visual experiences of viewers overlap.

What is your experience with art encounters?
Looking at art, I am fascinated by the way something is painted - the subtlety, skill and attention reveal the attitude towards the object. When painting, you arrange and simplify a lot, and it seems touchingly beautiful to me.

So you look at art from the technical point of view?
Yes, I cannot escape it anymore. Everywhere I look, I see the way it could be done. Lately I’ve begun to like messy parts in paintings, where you can see that the artist was struggling at depicting something. I find these parts very honest. The struggle that appears gives them an extra dimension.

You are currently studying in the field of visual communication.
I want to learn something new, I feel the need to work with various materials. I am interested in technology.
It seems to me that one of the coolest things about the profession of an artist is that you are constantly given the opportunity to learn something new and expand your horizon. Ideas themselves may require me to do something I have never done before.
I like to paint, and now that I don't study painting anymore, I feel more free and I like to do it even more. In fact, it is only one side of me, no less true than the others. It often seems to me that what I like does not interest others at all. I like what I don't expect from myself.

What are Your artistic ambitions? Have you thought about how your career will develop in the future?
I don’t plan too far ahead, I'm not very good at planning. I don't know if I will work as a dishwasher and only paint in my free time... I have considered the profession of chimney sweep. (Laughs.)

Does seeing your works in an exhibition change the way you look at them?
I don’t think it does. When I look at them exhibited, I still see what they look like on the floor of my apartment. It's still all in my head. It is interesting to see how my works interact in a different space and context, but I cannot escape from all that is really hidden there. Perhaps the only thing that changes is that these works are no longer hidden. Honestly, I don't think I should hold a whole exhibition to express an idea - I try to put everything I have to say in one work, it is self-similar like a fragment of a fractal.

Janis Sneiders in an interview with Auguste Petre, 2021.