Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Five Minutes with Local Painter Adam Swanson

For a relatively small city Duluth has an active arts community. And it’s wonderful discovering the number of spaces where one can show one's work, or see the work of emerging and established artists. Once you start poking around you’ll quickly see who's actively putting their work out in the public. One of these is painter Adam Swanson whose paintings have been on display during the month of January at Pizza Luce in Duluth’s Tech Village.

EN: Where did your show’s title come from?

Adam Swanson: The title for the show "My Wicked Secret" came about while I was thinking about the variety of times friends have asked me about the specific meaning behind a painting. I prefer my paintings to remain open to interpretation, though I often find myself wondering what other artists were thinking when they made their work. The paintings in this show were created with a specific meaning of my own, though those ideas are personal. No single interpretation of my work is wrong and I hope those interested can come up with their own story around each piece. Their own secret story.

EN: Can you define your new direction for us?

AS: I've been experimenting with new symbols. Also, playing around with new technical ideas, such as laying the panel down flat while painting, and some diverse color mixing.

EN: How has being a father changed your work or helped you grow as an artist?

AS: I could probably write an essay about this one. Being a father has certainly changed me as an artist. When I had my first son, I realized quickly that I was going to have to zero in on the few things that were really important to me in order to preserve their presence in my life. Parenthood forced me to focus in a way that I never had before and it helped me structure artwork into my existence in a more sustainable way. Having a kid made me take stock of what I really wanted in life and led me to evaluate all of the possible ways to grow in a fulfilling direction. The experience of being a father has also made me feel very lucky and I feel that I owe the universe something to pay back this good fortune.

EN: When did you first become aware that you had a desire to paint? 

AS: I have been making art since I was a child and began to take it more seriously during my undergraduate degree in studio art at UMD. I paint now because it's the best way I can think of to make imagery that grabs people and expresses some of my ideas. I like to paint because it is a meditation that I have on an idea. Painting is something I am working on getting better at, so that I can communicate more clearly. But I really love all art forms and would love to get into something else someday. Sculpture or film perhaps.

EN: You arrived here in the Twin Ports about five years ago. Tell us about your life before coming to Duluth?

AS: After living for 3 years in Ithaca, NY working as a rare book and manuscript conservator (and painting) I moved to Antarctica for a nine month contract position fixing and working on boats used for science. The contract left me in South America where I spent a few months traveling. I eventually landed in Duluth in January 2009, looking to set up shop somewhere to work on my art. I began at a cabin on the North Shore of Lake Superior and finally found a spot in Duluth to work on art full time.

EN: Why the decision to paint on masonite panels rather than canvas?

AS: I like the texture of masonite. The texture of canvas has always been something I struggled to get rid of. And I never roll it up, so having a painting on a board is roughly the same weight and shape as having it on stretched canvas. Masonite is cheap and sturdy, and usually made of recycled, steamed wood pulp with no additives. And I gesso it up pretty good before painting so I think my paintings are fairly archival. I take photos of all my paintings, because the end image is really important to me.

This interview originally appeared in The Reader.

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