Karen Swyler: Between – Plinth Gallery Artist Interview
Karen Swyler’s interview marks the first of monthly interviews in conjunction with Plinth Gallery in Denver, Colorado. We will be highlighting interviews with the artists who are currently showing with Plinth. Karen’s show opens this Friday, March 5th from 6-9pm. Karen’s elegant porcelain is both understated and eloquent. While they may reference the vessel, their altering and pairing speak volumes about relationships. Karen’s website: http://karenswyler.com/ Plinth Gallery: http://plinthgallery.com/ Tell us a little about yourself! I grew up on the north shore of Long Island, close to the beach. As a child, I played with clay in my mom’s pottery studio and worked with my dad on school science fair projects. Their artistic and scientific influences had a strong impact on how I viewed the world from a young age. I currently teach full time at Green Mountain College (an environmental liberal arts college in Vermont) while maintaining an active studio practice. I’ve found that my teaching and studio work fuel each other and that I truly enjoy being part of a collaborative educational setting that supports my studio work. How did you become an artist? Although I had access to clay from a very young age I really didn’t get interested in it until high school. I took throwing classes and found I loved making pots. This was something that felt natural to me – probably due to the fact that I grew up in a home surrounded with my mom’s handmade pieces. From there, my education in the field was very linear. I was fortunate to attend institutions where I received a strong technical background as well as exposure to critical theory and dialogues about art. I think it’s impossible to define a specific point in time when I became an artist. Instead, I view the process of making art as an evolution. My work is always changing; sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. This is what keeps things interesting, so I hope I never arrive at anything that feels like a conclusion. How would you describe your style? One of the hardest things for artists to do is to stand apart from everyone else. How long did it take you to come up with your own style and signature look? While my style is constantly evolving, I had a major breakthrough during my graduate studies that continues to inform the work I make today. My visual sensibilities lead me to make work that is organic in form and subtle in color and pattern. Through this approach I aim to create pieces that are elegant and beautiful. These decisions are intended to draw the viewer in and emphasize the conceptual intent of the work. What is your inspiration for your pieces? When I was 12 my parents gave me the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Since then I have been an avid bird watcher and outdoor enthusiast. The natural world is a strong influence in my work; I see beauty in organic forms such as the curve of a bird’s neck or the subtle pattern of a bird’s plumage and aim to capture this in my pieces. Conceptually, I am interested in ideas that investigate communication and relationships. What keeps you motivated? Looking at art, reading about art, and talking about art with colleagues and students keeps me motivated and constantly raises new questions for me to think about in my studio work and my teaching. I also keep a full schedule and usually have shows planned well into the future. Setting these specific goals gives me deadlines; I like this way of working. The ebb and flow of the academic year also creates a schedule that allows me to balance studio work and teaching. Are you a full-time artist? How do you come up with your creations? Can you walk us through your creative process when dreaming up new pieces? I am a full time college professor and studio artist. When developing ideas for new pieces I always look at my most recent work. Using this work as a reference point allows me to improve upon an idea or push an idea further by learning from successes and failures. To test new ideas I often sketch in clay, making pieces that will be sacrificed to experiment with a new form. I also make drawings, but have found there is little substitute for practicing with the actual material. What was it that made you want to start creating? Did something specific trigger it? It’s hard to say; I can’t think of a specific event that triggered it. I have always been shy. The idea of art making as an alternate form of communication was attractive to me. I like the notion that I can make something with my hands that can communicate in a much more nuanced, powerful and multifaceted way than either the spoken or written word. I think that’s why art and art making are so integral to human society. What or who inspires you? My sister and my mother. My sister is a writer and has recently completed her first novel. The amount of perseverance, dedication and time spent on this single, intensive project is awe inspiring. How do you maintain a healthy work and life balance? It is a constant challenge, but I try to take things day by day. My husband is very supportive of my art and teaching practices and also helps me maintain a balance; we enjoy outdoor activities together including cross country skiing, hiking and bird watching. What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look? Gaining a strong technical background and exposure to contemporary and historical artists can give you a good foundation, however I think the best thing to do is look to your own passions, even if they have nothing to do with art. This will help you make the most honest, personal work. Thanks, Karen!