Thursday, March 22, 2007

Art Space Talk: William Swanson

I recently interviewed artist William Swanson. Mr. Swanson has been a featured artist at Scope (New York, Miami) several times and his work has been published in ARTnews, Art in America, New American Paintings, and several other publications. William is represented by DCKT Contemporary, Heather Marx Gallery, and Walter Maciel Gallery. In his paintings, William combines vividly colored abstractions with images influenced by Pop culture, Japanese animation, science fiction, architecture, nature, and music.

Mr. Swanson's work attempts to visualize the workings of modern, post-industrial landscapes by hovering the line between landscape and abstraction, between the real and the synthetic. Using a palette that is both soothing and insolent, Swanson paints recognizable forms combined with abstract marking. The results are illusory images that suggest the familiar as well as the fantastic.

Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "I think it was a cumulative decision after many years of confirming that drawing and painting was the thing I liked to do most. Art was an important part of my childhood and at times bordered on obsession."

Q. On average, how long does it take you to create a piece?

A. "Lately I've been taking more time to complete paintings. On average it's about 2 months in the studio start to finish. I usually have anywhere from 4 to 8 pieces in progress so it's hard to keep track of exactly how much time goes into each piece."

Q. Has your art ever been published?

A. "Yes. "Anthem" Issue 11; "100 Artists of the West Coast" Douglas Bullis, 2003, Shiffer Books."

Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A. "I listen to music constantly while working. When I was renovating the garage that is now my studio I made sure to insulate all the walls and ceiling for soundproofing since I tend to crank up the volume at times. I keep dark chocolate on hand when I need to get going in the studio."

Q. Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

A. ""After Site" is a recent piece that took the idea of a disaster site as the basis for the imagery. The wreckage is a mass of architectural slabs and planes that aren't quite settled. On top of the wreckage is a makeshift structure made of logs and salvaged wood. This handmade element shows the human need for shelter and structure. The reflection is something I use to bring in another dimension to a landscape. It's as much about reflecting on the disaster as it is about a play on optics and symmetry."

Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how did it help you as an artist? What can you tell us about the art department that you attended?

A. "I have a BFA in painting from RISD. In the late 80's and early 90's when I was at school there was an emphasis on political correctness that pervaded much of the curriculum. Then there were the old timers teaching abstract expressionism like it was the mid sixties. I didn't reject either side but let's just say I had some "unlearning" to do after I got out of school. The best thing about being at RISD was the proximity to New York for faculty and visiting artists."

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "I arrived at using acrylic paint on wood panel after a lot of experimentation with formats and materials. I need a smooth hard surface since I work with very liquid paint. I pour pools and make washes as under- layers that I later build upon with top layers. I enjoy building and prepping the panels almost as much as painting on them."

Q.Where can we see more of your art?

A. "Heather Marx Gallery, SF: and DCKT, NY: Both galleries have inventories of my work."

Q. Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

A. "I am scheduling a show in NY at DCKT- most likely in the Fall. They are relocating to a new space so the schedule is still TBD. Next year will be Walter Maciel Gallery, LA and Heather Marx Gallery, SF."

Q. What galleries have you exhibited in? Can you provide links to their sites?

A. "I am represented by Heather Marx Gallery in San Francisco: ( ) , DCKT Contemporary in NY: ( ), and Walter Maciel Gallery in LA:( )- I have also shown in San Francisco at: Luggage Store, New Langton Arts, Southern Exposure, San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, The Lab, Yerba Buena Center For The Arts, A.O.V."

Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?

A. "More and more art fairs. (Ha Ha)"

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "I would say the best way to develop is to get involved on the community level in local non profit and alternative spaces. Also put together group shows with like minded artists in the DIY spirit. Show in a closet if you have to."

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist?

A. "The toughest point in my career was when we had just bought a fixer house and had a 7 month old baby. We had to live in the front room while we completely gutted the kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms. All this while trying to keep the art making going. My wife Alena is an artist as well. We were both selected for "Bay Area Now" at YBCA so it was right in the midst of all this mayhem of renovating and diaper changing. We were lucky to survive that episode. Somehow we got the work done for the show and now our daughter Elsa is in kindergarten, but we are still working on the house!"

Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "Art comes right after eating and sleeping on my list of needs.... actually eating, art, then sleeping."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "I have lived and worked in the San Francisco area for 14 years. It is a great place to develop as an artist since it's out of the spotlight of the art hubs of the world. Non profit spaces such as New Langton Arts, Southern Exposure, The Lab, and Yerba Buena Center For The Arts are vital resources for artists in this area. I now live in Oakland where there is a blossoming art scene of artist run spaces with lots of energy."

Q. Has politics ever entered your art?

A. "A fair amount of geo- political issues run through my artwork. My work is purposely open for interpretation. It often poses questions about land use, nature vs. technology, bio- engineering, etc."

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

A. "The situations presented in my paintings are diagrammatic renderings of engineered environments. I like to pose a fictional view of the ever-changing state of nature and it’s various forms of adaptation. Selected elements from the natural world persist within the architecture of limitation and categorization. Trees, plants and mushrooms flourish in crystalline formations in the face of bleak prospects. Walls block the growth of would be forests. I imagine the sub-structure of a landscape exposed and visible to reveal networks of hidden layers. The inorganic mimics the organic within these networks in a melding of form and function. Light becomes subjective since so many sources co-exist within a given space. Depicting this multi faceted condition is a challenge I like to take on in my work. I also find a challenge in the positioning of my view onto this altered nature while maintaining a sense of wonderment and critical appreciation for the oddities within it."
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with William Swanson. Feel free to critique or discuss his work.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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