Most Interesting People 2014: Hy Snell

Hy Snell


Why He's Interesting: A former sculptor, Snell turned to abstract painting when his eyesight began to deteriorate about 10 years ago. Snell's story caught the attention of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, and he's become a cornerstone of the company's Get Old campaign. Two huge photos of Snell are displayed on the street-level windows of its corporate headquarters in Manhattan.

BREAKING THE MOLD: Born in New York City, Snell spent more than a third of his life there making not-so-abstract sculptures. Featuring polo players and ballerinas in action, his work focused on movement, and his paintings have the same vibe. "Abstract is just shapes and form and do-it-as-you-go."

FLOW RIDER: With hints of Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso, Snell's brightly colored swirls and swoops show the fluidity in his imagination. He doesn't begin a piece with a subject in mind, instead letting the work be his guide. "I do it so long that I almost feel it in my fingers."

HOME STUDIO: Snell moved to Stone Gardens assisted living facility in Beachwood four years ago to be near his daughter and son-in-law. He began painting in the community's art studio, where art classes are held three days a week. "If I spend a day not painting, I'm not happy."

VIDEO VAMP: As his work gained popularity with residents and the media, the Ohio Department of Aging posted an 11-minute interview with Snell on YouTube. Pfizer's marketing team discovered the video and sent 10 representatives to town for three days to shoot a video of Snell for its Get Old campaign. "I enjoyed my life a lot. I'm not ready to get off."

SHOW STOPPER: Snell's works have been shown in the O Gallery in Beachwood and the Pentagon Gallery and Frame in Cleveland Heights. Now, he displays and sells his paintings from his Stone Gardens apartment, where 95 works are stacked against the walls. A sign hangs on the television: small $45, large $85. "I accept things the way they are. I do paintings without my eyesight, and people buy them."

AGE OF INFLUENCE: The Pfizer video and photographs have brought widespread attention. Some of his works have sold nationally for as much as $2,500. A teacher in England who was inspired by Snell's video drew sketches of him to show her appreciation. "It's so exciting to me. As I go on, I see less. And the work seems inspiring."

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