Apolcalypse Portraits

These Apocalypse Portraits are truly a departure from my current work. In the past I painted lots of awkward, didactic figurative work, but eventually left it and my dark themes with a conscious decision to paint work that is more open to interpretation. Frankly, I needed to get away from the dark themes in order to support my own mental health struggles. I suffered from significant depression back then, and painting about heavy themes was not helping me. I made a big change — I shifted to deliberately paint with an eye to optimism and insight. (Yes, there were lots of other lifestyle changes too) Abstraction and the openness it created for me (and for the viewer of the work) was part of moving through that period toward a more productive, forward-looking engagement with life and my painting practice. I love what abstraction gave to me.

Then a little opportunity presented itself. One that unintentionally, surprisingly, led me back to the figure. 

Apocalypse Head 08.JPG

The Parker Art Salon does a group project every year with all the artists, and last year, they asked each of us to paint a self portrait. Since it had been many years since I had painted anything representational, I wondered how I was going to approach this. I decided to work with a limited palette, and see what it would be like to paint portraits that incorporated the mark-making I had developed in my abstract work. I wanted to work with the portrait, but with the bare minimum of recognizability. I wanted a barely there kind of mark. How loose can I paint and still have it feel like a portrait? The result was more than a dozen portraits on paper, one on panel, and one large figure on panel. The results reflect the darkness that has been pervading the past couple years with all the political turmoil throughout the world, and especially with our powerful Southern neighbours. Who doesn't think about the apocalypse? Fictional or real, it looms in our imaginations. 

Karen Moe, an art critic and writer, got in touch with me about writing an article about my Apocalypse Portraits, along with the work of two other artists, Kyla Bourgh and Suzy Birstein. Check it out here:

SAD Magazine: The Past is Present at 1000 Parker


These were very intriguing to many Crawl attendees, attracting a certain crowd, with whom I had very interesting conversations. Obviously, these represent a dark theme. I know they are not for everyone, and are a departure from my more lighthearted abstract work. A bunch sold, and I have just a few left. 

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I think of these as portraits of survivors of the apocalypse. A dark theme, fictional or not, that feels like it is always looming overhead, especially this past year. 

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Moe writes:

"Laurel Swenson told me how her series “Apocalypse Portraits” are influenced by past depictions of future dystopias and the political darkness that she feels is pervading our current times. Using acrylic, polymers, and powdered graphite on cold press paper, Swenson strives for the loosest, ‘barely there’ marks in a limited colour palette. Faded blues and hints of military green punctuate blacks, whites and greys. The images fall apart as apparitions that begin to fade upon their apprehension. The unrestrained technique and lack of detail give us expressions that burst with possibilities of what has happened, what is happening, and what is going to happen next. Like Bourgh, the narratives of Swenson’s dark figures are told through their brevity. The viewer is invited to both recall and predict the gaps. "
Apocalypse Head 07.JPG

Below is the large figure inspired by the small portraits. This one is called: "Failure is a Bruise, Not a Tattoo". 


Illumination: Paintings, a Party and a Poem

You are invited to share an evening with two painters and a poet with the intention of shedding light on and bringing awareness to mental health and the power of authentic connections. 

Location: Symmetry Lighting: 1955 E. Hastings

Date: Thursday, June 29th, 2017

Time: 5pm-10pm

Bar proceeds, book sale proceeds, and a silent art auction proceeds go to the Kettle Society.

Other: cash bar (cash only), snacks, kids welcome, wheelchair accessible

The three friends, Lori Popadiuk, Alisa Hutton and Laurel Swenson, decided to throw a party to celebrate mental health, appreciate the meaning-making, life-celebrating power of art, and support others getting mentally healthier. This exhibition has been created to shed light on the value of personal struggle and to acknowledge that we all are affected by the stigmas surrounding mental health. Each of us expresses our experiences in an intrinsic way — some paint, write, make music — some simply live in the struggle.

You are invited to share an evening with two painters and a poet with the intention of shedding light on and bringing awareness to mental health and the power of authentic connections.

So many of us are touched by mental illness. More than we usually acknowledge. Either we struggle ourselves, or we have a loved one who struggles. The wider societal impact is immense.

The burden of mental disorders continues to grow with significant impacts on health and major social, human rights and economic consequences in all countries of the world. — World Health Org, 2017

The creatives initiating this exhibition have been deeply touched with their own experiences with mental health. Through their respective mediums they have found great solitude, reflection and healing. Speaking though their chosen mediums they recognize the importance of sharing that with others to build a connected and strong community. They share a fabric that connects them in friendship, art and in life experience.

Social connection is one way to support our own mental health — by coming together we can become stronger and more resilient. Three friends are throwing a party to gather in real life to enjoy art, social connection, and to fundraise for a worthy organization that provides mental health support to some of our most vulnerable citizens. 

Thank you!

Thank you to Symmetry Lighting for providing a venue and so much more. Symmetry lighting believes in supporting their community and creating meaningful relationships with those around them. They are excited to be a resource to designers and architects, to collaborate on projects and to participate in industry events that benefit the A+D community. Outside of the design community, they also participate in events that contribute to local charities and support the arts.

This event gives Symmetry and opportunity to support our local east van community, three amazing artists and the Kettle, which is incredibly important as mental health affects us all in one way or another.

Thank you to Boffo, Five Vineyards Wines by Mission Hill Family Estate, Studio Print Group, Truffles Catering and Off the Rail Brewing for their generous contributions. Thank you to the volunteers for the evening for donating their time.

Thank you to the Kettle Society for all their ongoing work in our community. The Kettle Society provides mental health services and housing to some of the most vulnerable individuals in Metro Vancouver so that they can lead healthier lives.

The Parker Art Salon was amazing

The Parker Art Salon happened last weekend, May 5, 6 and 7th, and it was a great success. It is only our 3rd year of hosting it and it is improving every year. This year we partnered with Anxiety BC and much of the proceeds went directly to them to support their excellent services.

Anxiety BC is especially meaningful to me, not only because I used to struggle with anxiety in my past, but also because I currently recommend people to them frequently in my role as a Crisis Line Worker at the Vancouver Crisis Centre. In fact, I actually was interviewed on Round House Radio last week to talk about anxiety and the Parker Art Salon. 

Thanks to everyone who visited us!

See you next year...

 With Deb Bakos

With Deb Bakos

Britannia Art Gallery: Opening reception — Jan 4th 6:30-8:30pm

I am in a small show this January (with one other artist). The opening is Jan 4th, 6:30-8:30. 

This show is in a Gallery in a small community library that has been part of my life since my kid, Brae, was a toddler, so I feel gratified to now be showing my abstract work to the people who frequent this space: lots of teens, and elders and people in the neighbourhood. 

I love that there are spaces to see paintings that are accessible to a wider variety of people than typical galleries. Art conveys possibility and hope by its very existence — and I personally believe that abstract paintings are nourishing for us, just like vitamins! Ha ha! 

I am super happy to share my new paintings with my East Side neighbourhood. I would love to see you there for a visit, right at the beginning of 2017! 

The opening reception is onWednesday Jan 4th, 6:30-8:30pm




Britannia Art Gallery:

This is a small gallery in a local library. It has a real community feel to it!

Opening reception: Jan 4th 6:30-8:30pm

Runs: January 4-27th, 2017

1661 Napier St., Vancouver
(Off Commercial Drive)

Mon/Wed/Fri: 9am-6pm
Tues/Wed: 9am-9pm
Sun: 1-5pm

The Culture Crawl 2016

I love the Crawl. It is an opportunity for me to meet hundreds of art lovers all in one weekend. Think about that: what other event is there that draws crowds of people out to look at art? It is the biggest art event in Vancouver! I enjoy meeting all the people who are drawn to my work. Art is so very personal, and the Crawl allows everyone to find out what kind of work excites them. 


My lovely studio-mates!

A snapshot of the Crawl during the day. 

Painting is the most interesting activity I know

Painting is the most interesting and compelling activity I know. 

You start with a blank canvas and fill it up with something completely new — and the paint goes exactly where you put it. The awkwardness or brilliance of that stroke is yours, all yours. I am aiming for less awkwardness, or rather, just the right kind.

I am particularly interested in themes of transition, struggle and growth (both metaphorically and materially). Each painting is a visual expression of emotion and struggle, externalized through paint and materials. Some feel like storms, some like summer. My work is thematically connected by my focus on mark-making, the presence of the hand, the building of texture, and loose gestural painting.

The titles of each work add another layer of meaning to the painting: I treat each title is a mini-writing project — writing is an important aspect of my work and creative process. Writing, scribing-type marks are seen through out my work, so it is fitting that writing titles has emerged as an important layer to each piece. Writing can be a key to making it through the storm of any transition. I aim to make the titles equally as evocative as the painting itself, sometimes aphoristic, sometimes they are truisms, and sometimes they give warnings, and sometimes they offer a little sense of humour. 

I am working on process-driven work, and am pursuing abstraction in effort to create work that is evocative, emotional and that responds to the materials. It develops over time with layers of texture, marks, brushstrokes, colour, blood, sweat and tears (and a sense of humour!). 

My work intentionally shows the embodied making of a painting by highlighting the hand in the process, by incorporating mark-making, looseness of brush-stroke, movement, and texture. And now, this non-objective work is becoming bigger and bigger— my most recent bunch of paintings are over 50 x 60 inches (they barely fit in my Delica). 

xo Laurel