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