Monday, March 24, 2008

Art Space Talk: Laurel Swab

Laurel Swab is a painter and sculptor originally from Louisville, Kentucky. Laurel graduated with honors and received a B.F.A. in 1991 from the Kansas City Art Institute where she studied sculpture and fiber arts. While attending K.C.A.I. she was exposed to a variety of media and still constantly seeks new processes and materials to further expand her visual vocabulary. Her work is expressive, poignant and thought provoking. It addresses issues of confrontation, cultural boundaries and personal evolution. Swab has earned the respect of regional gallery owners, collectors and museum curators and directors. Her work is in numerous private collections throughout the United States.

Breathe, oil on canvas, 22 x 32"

Brian Sherwin: Laurel, I understand that your father is an artist as well and that you decided to follow in his footsteps. Do mind telling our readers about the influence your father has had on you? Did he help you in your decision to attend the Kansas City Art Institute?

Laurel Swab: I grew up surrounded by art, my father's art, my grandfathers art, art my parents have collected. As a child, my father spent a lot of time in his shop sculpting or working on projects around the house. I learned most of my skills as a sculptor form watching him. He taught me how to use hand tools and power tools, he taught me how to be a creative problem solver and any engineering abilities I have are the result of observing his process. He is an exceptional craftsman and educated me about quality and the importance of creating a well-executed product. Most importantly my father, and mother as well, have never wavered in their support of my creative endeavors.
Fool, oil on canvas, 30 x 24"

BS: While at the Kansas City Art Institute you studied sculpture and fiber arts. Did you have any influential instructors at that time? What was the program like?
LS: KCAI was a four year program. The first year consisted of an introduction to a variety of media and instructors. It was designed to get your feet wet and help you discover what your focus will be for the next three years. What it did for me was convince me to pursue sculpture as a major instead of commercial arts. As far as influential instructors go, I had a few. George Burris taught Jungian psychology and I took every class I could with him. This ended up having a major part in sculpting my life philosophy and largely affected my work. I also had a drawing instructor, Lester Goldman who challenged me to the point of great frustration but eventual great success..

The Thought That Consumed Me, oil on canvas, 30 x 24"

BS: Laurel, I understand that you have ten years experience working as a museum exhibit designer. How did that experience help you as an artist? Also, why did you decide to leave your position in order to pursue you own art full-time? At what point did you know that focusing on your own work was the only direction for you?

LS: When I started working for museums I was hired to help build crates for a traveling exhibit that was about to tour. I worked my way up to Exhibit Preparator and finally Exhibit Designer. Being part of the exhibiting facet of the "art world" helped me immensely as an artist. I learned how to address art institutions when soliciting my work and how to work with them without creating animosity. More specifically, in regards to my work, I was inspired by the collection of the institution I was working for. They have an extensive collection of native American and Hispanic artworks, obviously heavily colored by spiritual and religious motivations. I have been interested in the concept of religion and exploring all mythologies since before college.

As with most artists it's the ultimate goal to be able to focus solely on ones own work and nothing else. The opportunity presented itself to me and I took it. However, I haven't been completely removed form museum work, I have been working as a contractee for the past five years. I found I missed the social interaction of working with others and the challenges that exhibition work can present. As we all know it's not easy surviving on an artist salary and this kind of work is definitely more palatable than other options out there.

Leonardo's Wings, mixed media, 24 x 45 x 20"

BS: Laurel, you paint and sculpt... you are primarily recognized as a sculptor. Can you tell us about why you decided to pick up a brush? Also, how do you divide your time between sculpting and painting?

LS: I taught myself to paint after a trip to Italy in 1997. I was moved by the works of the "old masters", the quality of light, the emotion, the atmosphere of the magical worlds they created with paint. When I came back I was inspired to try this medium for myself. I don't necessarily divide my time between the two mediums. I am primarily painting right now, when I get the urge to sculpt again I will. Usually one method of creation will be screaming louder than the other, that's how I decide what gets my attention.

BS: Is there ever a conflict between working in these two mediums? Or would you say that one process builds upon the other?

LS: I wouldn't say there is a conflict between the two mediums, both ways of working allow me different freedoms. I have always been drawn to discovering new materials and combinations of materials, sculpting allows me to embrace that. Another passion of mine is exploring color and creating mood, which I find more attainable through painting. There is also an instant gratification that come with painting where it might take me months to complete a sculpture it only takes days or weeks to complete a painting (creative energies permitting, of course). My background in sculpting has honed my skills of creating three-dimensional forms which I apply to my paintings, sculpting with color and values instead of metal and wood. Painting allows me to create and control the worlds and atmospheres for my subjects to exist in, when you sculpt, your work is ultimately at the mercy of the surroundings in which it is placed.

Heads, mixed media, 22 X 32"

BS: When you sculpt a form with your hands... do you view it as a sensual process? How is this different compared to painting? Is there a difference for you?

LS: sculpting is definitely a sensual experience. Due to the variety of media that I combine in any given piece the process becomes one of engineering as much as of sensuality. It is very different when I paint. There is no engineering and there is no actual physical contact between my hands and paint.

BS: Laurel, your work deals with issues of cultural boundaries, confrontation and personal evolution... can you tell us why these themes are important to you? What is the motivation behind your work?

LS: It's just "life stuff" things we encounter every day. I am motivated by my experiences. I am (we are) part of a very large network of energies and forces, some within my control and some without.

BS: Can you tell us more about the philosophy behind your work? What is the message that you hope viewers grasp upon viewing your art?

LS: The specific emphasis seems to change from time to time depending on my mood. Most recently I have been very preoccupied with the specific inherent dangers of our cultural evolution; war, climate change, cultural and societal ignorance, etc. Utmostly I am obsessed with the importance of each individuals ability to instigate change. I want people to take more responsibility for their actions and not be afraid to think for themselves.
Consciousness, mixed media, 28 x 42"

BS: Laurel, can you select one of your paintings and one of your sculptures and tell us about them? Give us insight into why you created these two pieces.

LS: "Consciousness" is one of what I consider to be my first successful paintings. It goes back to my studies of Jungian psychology and the idea of the "collective consciousness". That we are all part of a whole, each of us an integral influence on the potential outcome of events. I am constantly reminded of the importance of this concept.

"She Gave up Her Arms for Wings" is a piece I did when I decided to pursue my art full time. It was a scary decision, part of me was afraid that I was going to be crippled financially, but I knew I needed to sacrifice that security in order to, hopefully, fly.

Forming a Thought, oil on canvas, 30 x 32"

BS: Tell us more about the social implications of your art. Have any specific events influenced or inspired you?

LS: There have been many specific events that have influenced me, some too personal to discuss. Mostly, though the thing that inspires me is the culmination of experiences I have had that have formed my philosophy and approach to life. It is important to challenge what you've been told, to look for your own answers and not be afraid to act.

BS: Finally, do you have any upcoming exhibits? What are your plans for 2008?

LS: I have a show coming up in mid April at the William Havu Gallery in Denver, CO and another show this summer in Colorado Springs. Other than that my plans are to keep painting and continue the ever present task of expanding my audience.
You can learn more about Laurel Swab by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

No comments: