Stella Snead was a Surrealist painter, photographer, and collage artist born in London, England, who moved to the United States in 1939 to flee World War II. She later became a photographer noted for her books on India.
Snead was born on April 2, 1910, and it was not until she was in her mid-20's that she decided to become a painter. She studied with the French abstract painter Amédée Ozenfant, who had opened an art school in London in 1936. The English Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington was a fellow student and a close friend.
In 1939, with the outbreak of war against Germany, Snead immigrated to the United States where she met many other Surrealist émigrés. In 1940, Snead traveled to Los Angeles, where she was inspired by the landscape and indigenous cultures of the American West and Southwest. She moved to Taos, New Mexico in 1946, where she lived in an adobe structure and was able to observe traditional American Native processions and dances.
Stella Snead's paintings from the 1940s — nocturnal, dreamlike landscapes populated by fantastic animals and semi-human creatures — reflected the influences of painters like Yves Tanguy and Max Ernst. Her works show her fascination with the earth's most powerful phenomena, including tornadoes, geysers, and volcanoes, revealed by her paintings of figures performing ritualistic movements in anthropomorphic landscapes.
But in the 1950s, Snead abruptly stopped painting. She had endured the breakup of a romantic relationship, which triggered the depressive spell that would end her work as a painter until the late 1980s. Drained of her desire to paint, Snead turned to photography.
In India, where Snead began making extended visits, and where she lived throughout the 1960s, she took photographs of street life, nature and Hindu sculpture. She published eight books of photography, including "Shiva's Pigeons: An Experience of India" and "Animals in Four Worlds: Sculptures from India". In the 1960s and 1970s, Snead produced collages from cut-up pieces of her own photographs. Some were published in a book, "Can Drowning Be Fun? A Nonsense Book".
In the late 1980s, after a hiatus of more than three decades, Snead began painting again. Many works were lost, stolen or destroyed, and Snead worked to either locate missing works or repaint them from photographs of the works that were taken in the 1940s.
Snead spent most of her adult life moving between New York City, London, Taos, New Mexico, and India. In 1971, she settled on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, remaining there until her death.
Though not well remembered as a painter today, Snead exhibited her work frequently in the United States and Europe during the 1940s. Wider recognition returned to Snead in 2005, when her work was included in "Surrealism USA", a major exhibition of American Surrealism at the National Academy Museum in New York, followed by subsequent exhibitions at the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and several important gallery exhibitions of Surrealism.
Solo, Gallery 10, New York, 1941
Bonestall Gallery, 1945
Arcade Gallery, London, 1945
Carnegie International exhibition, Pittsburgh, 1949
Solo, The London Gallery, England, 1950
Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut, 1985
"Rediscovery: The Paintings of Stella Snead", CFM Gallery, New York, 1999
"Surrealism USA", National Academy Museum, New York, 2005
Wadsworth Atheneum, 2005
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2005