Susan Swartz, artist from the United States. Photo © Carla Boecklin
Tell us what you do and your beginnings.
I am an American painter working with mixed media. I have always been interested in art. When a high school teacher recognized that I had artistic ability he encouraged me to pursue it. Once I entered college, I knew that I wanted to make a career out of it.
During this time, male artists were primarily featured in galleries and museums, so I worked as an art teacher and continued to paint. When I first began painting, I was focused on realistic portrayals – I always wanted to depict and honor nature in my work and the first area that allowed me to explore that was landscape work. This work resonated with collectors who value pieces dedicated to realism in nature as the subject matter.
I was honored to be chosen as the Environmental Artist for the 2002 Olympic Games and featured in the book Painters of the Wasatch, a collection of works by artists dedicated to capturing the physical appeal and inspiration of nature.
But fifteen years ago, my art forever changed after Lyme Disease and mercury poisoning nearly killed me. I was left in a hyperbaric chamber for 40 days fighting to survive and I never expected to paint again. Miraculously, I recovered and immediately changed how I saw my artwork and the world around me.
Nature healed me. I looked to nature and its elements to strengthen my body, spirit, and immune system. I adopted a diet rich in restorative, healing foods, which I credit for my recovery. I eventually began incorporating these organic elements into my work, which has led me to where I am today.
What does your work aim to say?
I believe that divinity touches us all through nature. Nature sustains us. Nature can heal us. My own experiences have only strengthened my appreciation of the power of the natural world and brought me a newfound faith in God’s image of the natural world. In the words of Thoreau, “Nature is doing her best each moment to make us well. Why nature is but another name for health”.
It is my hope that my work implores viewers to better appreciate the environment and what it provides us with. Whether fresh food, mountains, or an incredible sunset, the natural world provides us with life-sustaining nutrients, the means for adventure, and breathtaking sights. These things enrich our lives and truly aid in our physical, emotional, and mental health.
Where do you find inspiration for your art?
I take my inspiration from nature: a sunrise, a snowfall, a rainstorm – each evokes a different feeling, and each inspires a different work. These natural scenes take form by incorporating the natural elements that aided in my recovery – fruit, flora, and herbs. As I rebuilt my strength, my art became bolder, and I moved away from realism and embraced an abstract style – allowing me to better interpret what I was feeling and seeing in nature.
Could you give us some insight into your creative process?
When I started painting from my soul, my art – and my process – naturally shifted. I started to let my intuition drive my work and take artistic risks. For example, feeling inspired by the foods that helped me recover, I developed my technique to preserve organic materials so that I could incorporate them into my work. Through a multi-step process, I can preserve an element of freshness and life in my work which expresses the need to protect our immune systems and preserve the delicate balance between humankind and the natural world.
Throughout my career I have regularly been reminded that you cannot paint for others – you must paint for yourself. This is the core of my creative process. When you work with authenticity, passion, and joy, creating art is simple.
What are your future projects?
I am delighted to share the exciting news that as of January 1st, I am now being represented by Jason McCoy Gallery in New York, and I am launching a series of pop-up shows around the country. Currently, a curated selection of my work from recent collections is part of my solo exhibition at the Jason McCoy Gallery in New York through April 7th, 2023, and I am excited to bring our collaboration to other cities starting with New Orleans this spring.