Poor Yorick's bi-annual open studio approaching in less than two
weeks, its interesting to note that many of the artists who have held
residency over the years have gone onto bigger achievements. No
matter what wing you end up in, the community there gives you a place
to grow and others work to admire, not to mentions a crash course in
localized artists and tastes. So its only natural that many of those
residing would eventually pick up stakes and branch out across the
state. Like the man we'll chat with today.
--- Sculptor and painter Gerry Swanson held shop in the D-wing of the massive artist collective for a time, perfecting his works in talented environment until late 2008. After catching the exhibition bug and touring parts of the U.S. with this works, Swanson came back to start Silent Swan Studio in the heart of Salt Lake City. Moving residency on occasion, the gallery itself has become its own traveling exhibit to show off his latest pieces while looking for permanent residence along the way. I got a chance to chat with Gerry about his career and the gallery, plus his thoughts on out art scene. Along with photos of his art from both his display at the Utah Arts Festival this past summer, and his current exhibit that you can check out here from The Circle Lounge.
Gavin: Hey Gerry, first off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Gerry: I am 27 (28 on the 20th) grew up in Taylorsville, but have traveled across the U.S. a few times showing and creating artwork on the run. Never been outside the U.S. except Mexico when I was 18. Still think there is a lot to see here. People tend to comment on, "my energy" and my work ethic. I get my energy from my mom, a retired Major in the Utah National Guard, and my work ethic from my dad, a master brick mason.
Gavin: What first got you interested art, and what were some of your early inspirations?
Gerry: When I was in third grade I broke my leg climbing on a mailbox my dad built outside our house. I was and still am athlete, so at recess I would always be playing sports. This hindered that and I was forced to stay in at recess. Soon I found the folded computer paper with the tear-of edges and began to draw up to 10' scrolls of detailed pirate and military scenes. I also used to get tended by the family of a local artist, Ryan Ottley. He focuses on comic art, which was the beginning of my art career. Seeing the power of the pen like that is encouraging to the youngest of 4 boys. Allowed my to compete without physical strength.
Gavin: You got your BFA at the Lewis & Clark College in Portland. What made you choose their program, and what was that experience like for you?
Gerry: I actually had the Presidential Scholarship at Westminister College. After a semester here, I tried walking onto the basketball team, but was denied. I went the next semester at the Salt Lake Community College to keep my credits rolling while I searched for a new college. Lewis & Clark were recruiting me for football my senior year, so I contacted them and immediately they were glad to have me. I ended up playing football and basketball there. Football players were hated by the 80% hippie school, probably with good reason. I was nearly hazed by the seniors my freshman year up there. The senior who I was taking his position decided to relieve himself on my leg while I was washing my hair in the shower and I ended up having to put a quick end to his antics and eventually his football career (I beat him out for the starting free safety position). Our group of freshman were different. We hung out with all tribes of L&C. Hippies, athletes, hell I was a member of the Black Student Union and the Hawaiian Club and painted murals for both. It was a good challenge to bring people together like that.
Gavin: Why did you decide to come back to Utah after getting your degree?
Gerry: I came back to Utah because of my health during and after my senior year. I was pushing myself rather hard the summer before my senior year. My dad was struggling with a crack cocaine addiction and I was trying to help him and pay for my last year by landscaping here in Utah. It was the most emotionally draining thing that happened to me. When I went back for two-a-day practices for football, I wasn't the same player who had led the league in tackles the year before. I was weak. Emotionally and physically. Soon I contracted a community Methicillin-resistant staph infection on my left index finger. The turf field up there was a breeding ground for it. I then fought recurring staph infections my senior year for six months but ended up getting two more, totaling three over six months. The medical community had no answers, just take antibiotics and try to sustain life. Pretty ridiculous considering I racked up $30,000 in medical debt with no answers. I was forced to find my own answers through studying and researching. Good thing I learned how to learn there at L&C. I truly believe if I would have kept on the medical communities regime, I would have died. My mom was there the whole time for me. She calls it, "My birth by fire".
Gavin: Of the different forms of art you do, why did you choose to focus on sculpture?
Gerry: Sculpture comes very natural to me. My creative process usually starts with drawing and sketching and then forms into a 3-Dimensional piece. Helps to see the project in a new literal light.
Gavin: Whats the process like for you in creating a piece, from initial design to final concept?
Gerry: From theorizing, then to sketching, then a master drawing (blueprint), then the initial piece, then the piece tends to take an evolutionary path. The process doesn't stop until i stop showing the piece. You can see the evolution of scarlet on my website.
Gavin: Are you usually dead set on what it will look like, especially considering the detail going into them, or do you play around with it while making them?
Gerry: Like I said, there is a rather detailed blueprint, but the nature of sculpture is much different from drawing so there is always a learning curve to overcome due to material. I like my pieces to mimic humans in that they are somewhat adaptable. I tend not to show in galleries at this point in my career. Not sure why, just haven't got to that point. It does cross my mind, but my artwork tends to contain kinetic movement. Galleries may be a direction for my 2-Dimensional pieces.
Gavin: What persuaded you to start doing exhibitions, and what's the reaction been from people when they see your works?
Gerry: I began to get addicted to showing artwork about two years ago when I was showing on tour. I like to mess with people. I act like I am not the creator of my marionettes or art in general, and I begin to pose questions to people as if they are the artist. I spawn conversations and conversation spawns new art. Music has been pushing me to exhibit more often. Different bands have seen my festival art at Desert Rocks and Uncle Uncanny and have been inviting me to create on stage. What a way to push yourself. A whole painting in one hour. Exhibiting is a good way to push yourself.
Gavin: For a time you resided over at Poor Yorick Studios. What was it like for you being a part of that community and showing your work at the open events?
Gerry: Poor Yorick was great. A step towards professionalism. The artists over there are diverse and serious. I enjoyed the atmosphere and learned a lot. I learned that you have to show in order to sell, and show in order to make the next step. Whatever it may be. That is how I got hooked up with all these music festivals. One promoter saw it and he is now one of my good friends. Led me across the U.S. on the Human Rights Awareness Tour. That is why I had to leave Poor Yorick.
Gavin: How did the idea come about for you to start up your own studio?
Gerry: I started Silent Swan Studio after much traveling and searching. I come by self-employment honestly. All my bros and my dad are self-employed. We are self starters with high "energy". I have a hard time working with others, so I began my own studio. I developed a business plan from one of my journals called, "The Gypsy Manifesto". In it, I show how to make money from nothing and the importance of the barter system in a failing economy. I was offered my space for trade work. After a hard winter of work I was two years ahead and ready to focus on art once again.
Gavin: How did you come across the downtown location, and how has it been for you having the space to work on and display your works?
Gerry: I met Matt McKean and we worked together up at the Sundance Film Festival at the Queer Lounge. We then met Scott Ingham and he offered us the space for trade. It was awesome showing there and having complete control of showing artists and my own work. I am much more than an artist, I am a hustler. Not in the negative sense of the word, but a man who hustles for what he is doing. I am constantly working hard and pushing ideas of what I believe art should be doing for me and others.
Gavin: Recently you've been hitting up major festivals like Uncle Uncannys, Desert Rocks and Utah Arts Fest. What's it like for you brining out bigger works to those events and showing off to bigger crowds?
Gerry: The festival work is a true social experiment. The Cowboy and Indian Marionette Series have been a huge success. People love the interactive element to my work. It is a perfect way to get people over to me, to teach me, and to learn from me. These festivals have taught me about myself and my neurotic ways of life. For instance, I was at the Las Tortugas Music Festival in Yosemite National Park and I had a large scale styrofoam interchangeable part sculpture. A buddy and I were building a large bridge type sculpture when a very intoxicated young man came up stumbling and grabbed a piece to add to the very top of the sculpture. I immediately questioned the young man, "Hey! Are you sure you?-" when his buddy interjected. "He knows where it goes." Then I sat and watched as the kid in the Superman cape placed the keystone piece on top with a little sway, then a perfect dismount. I said "Fuck me, who am I to tell people what to do anyway?" Lesson learned.
Gavin: Do you have any plans to bring in other artists into the studio, or is it simply a workspace for you to expand on your own works?
Gerry: I have shown other artists in the gallery of the studio. I tend to show artists who are still coming up and haven't quite established themselves yet. In a recession, people still want art but they cant afford the more established artists. This is a good way to help other artists and turn a little coin at the same time. I have recently been bought out of the space because of a difference of opinion on the usage of the space with my buddy, Matt McKean. I just didn't think a DJ booth had a place in a fine art gallery, weird.
Gavin: Moving onto local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Gerry: The local music scene is of the best there is. We have the talent, but without the rockstar mentality. I see my favorite band members working in regular locations across the valley. The art scene is packed with talent too. Sri Whipple, Trent Call, and Ben Weirmeyer were the first artist I met when I got back from Portland. I stop by Captain Captain often to see what those guys are up to. Those guys are the art scene but there are many of us who are pushing new ground and working hard to come up. I met a ton of the artists over at the Guthrie Building while I painted the 1911 mural on the side of Galenson's Gun Shop on 2nd and 2nd. They have a diverse community full of great work from Randal Lake to Sara Shaw, they have it covered.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Gerry: I think the best thing that could be done to make the art scene more prominent here is for artists to quit trying to think about what would sell and start thinking about what they are learning or trying to convey to the public. Sells come when artists are after the autonomous thought. I believe that artists have a pivotal step in the community. To make associations between subjects and to inspire other members of the community to do their part.
Gavin: How do you feel about the galleries we have around and the work they do for artists?
Gerry: I worked in one gallery here in Salt Lake, they were a very good gallery but I didn't see much of my work being shown in a gallery. Now I see some of my work as gallery ready, but am too far gone into the festival scene to put much thought into gallery representation. It seems to be a bit too stuffy for me. In Portland, there were a lot of galleries that invited the installation art genre. Here, not so much. I may work on getting a gallery to show at during the winter.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll as a whole and how its doing today?
Gerry: Gallery Stroll seems to get a little stagnant. I see a lot of art looking the same. My sculpture professor in college told me to always do the opposite of everyone. I took that as advice to not be to affiliated with what other artists are doing. It will leak into the subconscious. Then before you know it, everyone is a surrealist artist. I can't judge the Gallery Stroll too much, because there are diverse shops out there, like Fice, that put a lot of time and effort into staying fresh on the art shows. I don't get out into the Stroll enough to judge it.
Gavin: What's your opinion on the festivals we have in state and how they impact the art community?
Gerry: The festivals I have been involved with have been great to show at but not to lucrative financially. I tend not to worry about the sales right now and more of getting my art to people who impact me. A good foundation has been creating a nice buzz for me. Now I will start worrying about pricing and registering art. I see the festival scene as my marketing and networking avenue. Music always inspires me. People like Rick Gerber, John Corkery and Junior do so much for the local music scene and deserve to have good artwork at their festivals.
Gavin: What can we expect from you throughout the rest of the year?
Gerry: I plan on doing some pretty crazy installation artwork at Powellapalooza. I do my own custom wood carved frames. I plan to do about 60 by January because I have been asked to do the art directing for the House Of Blues tent up at Sundance. Those two events should take me through the year.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Gerry: Would like to promote the Powellapalooza Music Festival and Sundance. Enjoying the arts we have is integral in sustaining them and elaborating on them.
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