Swanson embraces freedom through painting

Vern Swanson works on one of her paintings for the senior honors exhibit “Young States.”

The walls are splattered with paint.  Hidden among the marks of brushes are messages to decipher.  “Study the mystery you embody.”  A simple “Gah,” describes the frustrations that come with the long, dedicated hours.  Incubus songs blare nonstop through the speakers. Who is the artist behind these walls?

SAU senior and double major in English and art Vern Swanson has a studio with almost as much character as herself.  The studio, located at the Black Lodge Art House, on Locust and Marquette Streets, has been her painting sanctuary for the past three years.  And now that her senior show is arriving soon, she describes the studio as her home and “unhealthy relationship.”

“Painting is my passion,” Swanson said.  “Through amazing guidance and my own experiences, I found painting. With paint I can express myself—I love it, I hate it, I talk through it, I hide behind it, I live it.  So, I guess it is my passion because it is myself.”

Guidance led her to art in high school and specifically painting in college.  She says her high school art teacher, Sheila Heth, helped her find this passion. With only six girls in her class, Swanson recalls her class as a “little art family.”

“She [Heth] worked very hard to get her students interested in art by encouraging us in every way,” she said.  “She was tough but she always got us excited to make, study, and learn about art.”

It was then at Ambrose where Swanson was able to immerse herself in painting.  She credits the SAU art faculty and their support as the major reason she decided to study art here at Ambrose.

And she has not wasted any time.  On average, Swanson spends 15 to 20 hours a week working on her paintings.  When beginning work on a new canvas, she has an idea of what she wants to paint but lets the work take on its own direction.  Called “process painting,” Swanson enjoys the freedom she has with the paintbrush.

“I don’t like a lot of structure,” she said.  “There’s always something there that I’d like to change—little, little things no one would probably ever notice.  I never feel that a painting is finished, but that I have to ‘give up.”

The paintings in Swanson’s exhibit are no exception.  One painting that originally began as a bedroom now displays an old, abandoned rollercoaster.  This change has led the painter to her inspiration for the other five works in her collection.

The senior honors exhibition, entitled “Young States,” features both Swanson and fellow senior and art major Lee White’s paintings.  Swanson’s work focuses on loss of innocence and the transition from childhood to maturity.  She wanted to display the vision of more distrustful, adult eyes.  She focuses on a simple question with no real answer: “What happened to the freedom of simply being a child?”

She chose to express this change in her paintings through a childhood backdrop—the carnival.  But this isn’t the kind of carnival kids remember from years ago.

“The candy colors and excitement of the rides have faded and are now but ghosts of their former selves,” Swanson said.  “Their environment is toxic and unwelcoming and yet the structures still hold some of their childhood magic.”

“What’s exciting to me about this semester’s honors project is the bravery in Vern’s painting process,” Kristin Quinn, SAU art department chair, said. “The paintings have gone through radical changes, changing chapters, and emotions daily.”

The long hours of developing these paintings will soon pay off.  The honors exhibit will open Friday, April 26, in the Catich Gallery in the Galvin Fine Arts Center.  Swanson will give her artist talk at 4 p.m. that day.  The exhibit will remain open until May 10.

“My nerves are high,” Swanson said. “I want it to look as good as it does in my head, but I know once I see all my hard work being honored, I will be beyond thrilled and grateful to have been given the opportunity.”


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