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Alison Bechdel: Artist, genius and instigator of change Alison Bechdel:
Artist, genius and
instigator of change
In September, Alison Bechdel became the second cartoonist to receive a MacArthur ...

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Stephen Lowell Swanberg: in the abstract
ART
by Joe Franco
2013-02-20

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With degrees in biological science and philosophy from Stanford University and a degree in biochemistry from Harvard, one might expect Stephen Lowell Swanberg to be speaking on pharmaceutical research or the advancements of mitochondrial DNA replication. But Swanberg took the road less traveled and has found himself abandoning his life of pipettes and centrifuges and embracing a life of brush, canvas and fresh paint as Chicago's latest abstract artist.

Swanberg was born in Minneapolis and ended up in Boston, living the life of a scientist. "I discovered in college that I liked biology and I thought that a degree in biology would lead to a job that paid—and it did," Swanberg told the Windy City Times. But Swanberg also acknowledged his creative side that had been with him since his early childhood. " I've played the violin since I was very young. My first work in science was part time and allowed me the freedom to both do science and play my violin."

Swanberg's multifaceted interests led him to an independent interest and study in contemporary art. "I attended a number of shows in New York through the 1990s and the early 2000s and found myself drawn to contemporary and abstract art," said Swanberg. After some thought, Swanberg believed that he would like to try painting to add to his creative outlet. So he became an autodidactic abstract painter. He acknowledged his early pieces were very "expressionistic" and full of color. "I found my early art very difficult to think and talk about. Since I enjoy thinking and talking about art with others I was determined to simplify the manner in which I worked," said Swanberg. "I found a format that worked for me."

His format has become one of his signatures—a grid, sometimes evoking a window. "When I look at these works I like to think about painting itself as an entryway, or a portal, peering into some other world." Swanberg found the idea of entering into his paintings to be one that appealed to him. "I've painted in such a way that one does not know whether they are looking out or looking in and honestly, I don't know which is the right answer," Swanberg revealed.

Swanberg's art is not necessarily science-inspired. There is a sense of order and rhythm that occur as a natural product of working with in a grid, but those pieces are used to explore, as Swanberg states, "the expressive use of rectangles, field of colors and appropriations." The idea of appropriating, particularly in the arena of art, is not new. Braques and Picasso certainly should come to mind when dealing with the appropriation of the cubist style. Swanberg's appropriations are subtler. "When I appropriate it may be a title, paying homage to an artist I admire, it may be a color or series of color. It is not an appropriation directly but indirectly from contemporary art."

One of Swanberg's larger pieces—called, simply, "The Factory"—is a series of 32 rectangles with pain applied by a algorithmic formula and pattern. "I thought about this piece and its title very carefully. For me, it reminded me of the way many old factories would paint over their windows to obscure one's vision," said Swanberg. Although he was reluctant to name "The Factory" as his favorite works, he admitted that the piece was certainly one of his favorites.

"When I approach a piece, I do so with only an amorphous idea of what the finished product will be," said Swanberg. "I have an idea of what I want the work to look like but you never really know what will happen. You may perceive a crisis and think the work in ruined but then after a while I can say to myself 'No. No. I can solve that problem.' This is simply the nature of the work," added Swanberg. "The inspiration can come while doing."

Swanberg has been working as an artist since 2002. He's had some smaller shows but none on his own. Several of his pieces hang in offices and financial institutions all over Boston but he has never had his own, solo show. His show on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Center on Halsted will be the first public solo show of Swanberg's work, and his elation was apparent. "This opportunity allows me to meet other artists and gallery owners who might be interested in my work." The show becomes as much about the art as it does about the artist's social and professional network.

For more information on Stephen Lowell Swanberg and for more information on his solo show at The Center on Halsted, please visit www.slswanberg.com .


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