artist statement

Me talking still about art. (photo by: Paulo Lopes Lobão 2013)
Me talking still about my work. (photo by: Paulo Lopes Lobão 2013)

In college, that naive time between my safe childhood and the daunting realities of adulthood, I believed art should have a message. Or specifically, my art should have a message. Art, unnerving the comfortably complacent while providing solace to those confined by systemic oppression, gave me a definition, an inspiration, and an objective.

My youthful disillusionment needed a voice and words failed me. For twelve years, I created mixed-media works. Planned imagery conveying a specific idea. I worked toward being the type of artist I wanted to be, making a socially conscious statement.

Commerce without Morality I
Commerce without Morality I • 24in x 24in •Mixed media collage • Carly Swenson • 2010

Realistically, however, my life experience was inadequate and breadth of knowledge limited. I was in my twenties and I wanted to “be the change…”. The thing is, social justice, corruption, climate change, inequality, sexuality, societal constructs, power dynamics…none are easily understood, let alone resolved. Each is nebulous and complex with nuance, bias, and a backstory. I’m smart enough to know there is much I don’t know. Basically, everything felt too big to tangibly grasp artistically. But I tried.

Some artists have the inspiring ability to cut to the point succinctly. I’m not one of those artists. I’m drawn to provocative art—but I know now, it isn’t the instinctual nature of my artistic voice.

What Death Will Leave Behind… • 24in x 36in • Acrylic on canvas • Carly Swenson • 2015

Three years ago, my focus shifted from a work’s intended message to the creative process. I allowed my work to simply be, instead of forcing it into a metaphoric mold of what art should mean. The change unexpectedly coincided with a growing dissatisfaction of my decade-long marriage. The military came first, my husband’s career second, and eventually, me and my ambitions—to the socially acceptable extent that my feminist ambitions were tolerated as a military spouse. I slowly lost myself. Figuratively chipping away any odd angles or rough edges to best fit this mold that was created for me.

Intuitive painting became my sanity as I left my emotionally abusive marriage and through the subsequent fallout. During that transitional time creating was calming; the heaviness of life was momentarily lifted. Art was healing, something reliable when everything else felt irrevocably fragile and terrifying. Engaging in the creative process, I regained my sense of self. My mistakes became learning opportunities and I made peace with uncertainty. This crept into my life— openness to change, trusting new people, trusting myself, and forgiving my own mistakes.

Remind me how it all went wrong • 24in x 36in • Acrylic on canvas • Carly Swenson • 2018

Recent developments our country are difficult for me to process emotionally and intellectually. I’m overcome with a different sense of grief. I can’t comprehend this glorification of greed, blatant corruption, and immense abuses of power.

I’m stronger and healthier than I was three years ago, while still evolving. And I understand now that my newer work does have a message and meaning. Art is also safety; a place to embrace love and focus on what is still precious. My effort to be the positive change by creating something. Something someone might get beautifully lost in, even momentarily—finding personal inner peace or comfort in a world that can feel endlessly disturbing.

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