I love Tom Swanson’s art – no doubt about it. The Ganesh painting that provides the motif for this site is one of his works. He’s a damn fine human being and a true artist, so it’s a pleasure to showcase some of his work and get some comments from the man himself. I’ve seen his work on lamps, canvas, cars, and more. He and his wife Denise (also an artist) live in a house referred to as The Swansonian (a play of words for the famous museum The Smithsonian). His work ranges from seemingly lighthearted art cars and Posikitty canvasses to spiritually profound and mesmerizing. Many paintings appear like mandala’s and pull the user in; I encourage you to enlarge the pics in this interview to fill your screen, and bust out your 3d glasses if you have some… Even w/ out the glasses his pieces take me to a place. Also, may I suggest: Support artists, please. Cut out a couple of latte’s per week and pretty soon you’ll be able to buy some sweet pieces to fill the spaces you occupy.
DS: Tell us about your art cars.
TS: I have painted three art cars so far. SHANKVW, Posi-Kitty Super Love, and Gnome Wagon! Each has their own theme and message. SHANKVW came about during a collaborative session with a friend of mine. He was a writer and I was a painter. We decided to write a novel together called SHANK. SHANK is the feeling you get when you think everything is going your way and then it doesn’t. We would each write a bit and then we would put it all together. Shadowy and tongue in cheek. Writing lead to painting the car as well. My friend soon dropped on this endeavor, said it would take too long so I went solo with it. So glad I did. People loved that car. I finally gifted it away and it was last seen in a documentary on Burning Man called Spark. My wife was inspired to paint a car as well and covered our Geo with loving messages and a chalk board hood. When she gave it to me, Posi-Kitty was born and is now covered in affirmations and hearts filled with love as well as kitties. Gnome Wagon! was born soon after, it means Give No One Mean Energy. I love art cars cause they bring art out into the world. I drive these cars regularly and people are always looking and smiling. Taking pictures etc. Upon moving to Seattle, I found my tribe of other art car people and was soon connected to even more people from across the US and Canada. We have a gathering here in Seattle every year and I always get to have fun people stay over at our house during this event. Guess you could say by flying my freak flag high, others raised theirs as well and a tribe was born. Or rather continued.
DS: What up with those gnomes, brother?
TS: Gnomes are a reoccurring theme as of late. I think of them as little containers of knowledge. Gnosis. They carry the spirit of the mushroom and that of the forest. They are the same color spectrum as the amanita muscaria. The mushroom you might see in an Alice and Wonderland cartoon. This mushroom has been worshiped for millennium. In Norse mythology, one of the gods was being chased and as he rode his giant steed to escape, the bloody froth that flew from the horse’s mouth landed upon the soil and the amanita was born. Red cap and white stalk. Looks like the gnome to me. Vikings used to eat these mushrooms before battle. It made them fearless and wild. Called bezerking, this practice was outlawed in 500 AD by the Romans. Was the mighty mushroom possessed Viking reduced to the little gnome that we see today? Perhaps. Much in the way that the great Celtic Sun god was reduced to a leprechaun? But that’s another story.
Mushrooms are a reoccurring theme as well. I have Russian ancestry and foraging comes naturally to me. But it goes deeper. The big shift came about when I was foraging alone one cold and rainy morning. Something called out from all around. I looked up and realized that everything was alive and was welcoming me as one would an old friend. The mushroom was the bait and I had been lured to this place, this moment for a purpose. What was once just a woodsy trail had turned into a temple whose very fiber was filled to the brim with Pan, the god of the forest. A sublime moment indeed. It struck my heart and I was never the same again.
DS: You’ve often mentioned your ‘muse’ in conversations and email; what are you referring to when you talk about your muse?
TS: My Muse is my wife Denise. She inspires me in oh so many ways. Painting is a creative process, a pulsating waxing and waning vibration of sorts. Some days I’m unstoppable. A creative force of reckoning. Other times I’m not. She helps me come out of these lulls and pushes me toward greatness. Without her, I might still paint but I probably wouldn’t ever finish anything. Especially the finely detailed paintings. I tend to get distracted, so there could be ten things going on at once, each pulling from the other. It’s not uncommon to have a beautiful painting sitting in the corner for years unfinished and without her inspiration it might never get done. Her gentle encouraging words call to me with the strength of a siren and help me face my fears, luring me to finish some of my finest pieces.
DS: What’s driving your evolution as an artist?
TS: What drives my evolution as an artist is whatever calls to me at the time. Of course other artist’s work influences me, one way or the other. That’s why its always wonderful to see new art. I tend to be a bit of a recluse, but when I do finally get out I am constantly amazed by some of the art out there in the real world. Recently, I have been walking in the city and finding so many gems lying about. Graffiti art especially. I used to also get quite a bit of art done when I had fellow artists working in the same studio. Maybe its a competitive nature, but seeing others in their process is a powerful force. I love to work with others. The fact that my wife is an artist as well is a huge factor in our relationship. I love seeing her process, not to mention her creations. The fact that our house is filled with art would not be if it weren’t for her spirit and creativity. I am blessed.
DS: Have various medicines contributed to your art?
TS: I have always had a powerful imagination and I think that has been a huge factor in my being an artist. One of my first memories of my art was when I was child. I was on an airline flight and the crew had gathered the children of the flight together for an art contest. Draw the wildest plane you could think of. I drew a road runner (like the cartoon) but his body was the fuselage of the plane with tiny people sitting in the window. Won first place. Pretty wild, eh? So has the use of medicine, yoga, and/or meditation contributed to my art. Of course it has. But its also a which came first the chicken or the egg sort of thing. I’ve always been a bit different. I think being that way led me towards the desire to be sublime. That is being physical, then vapor and back again. I love to dream and to wake up and to tell people what I saw. My use of medicine has helped that process. So has sobriety. So has yoga. So has meditation. I have used them all and each has given me wonderful images to try and recreate through my art. They are great methods for breaking free. Yet, the other day I made a gnome out of mud and left him in the yard to watch over his plants until the rain washed him away. Why did I do this? Because I am still that child. A little bit different, a little bit dreamy, a little bit magical. That is what I am.
DS: Your use of color seems fearless.
TS: I love bright colors. But not just the colors themselves but the way they move when contrasted against each other. My first taste of this was during Christmas. The red and green colors on the wrapping paper began to move about, a play on the eyes as each color vied for attention and its place in the fore ground. I soon began to play with that effect and expanded into others colors and their contrasts. The use of colors in this way seemed to embody the vibration of the Universe with all of its little particles zinging about through space. I had been using colors and dots this way for many years when one day a friend gave me a pair of 3D glasses. Wow. That bumped it up a notch. The look on people’s faces when they put on these glasses and view my art is priceless.
DS: What role has community played in your art?
TS: My community has given so much joy. I would not be half the artist I am today if it weren’t for loving arms of these supportive people. I have so many friends who give me feedback and cheer me on when I feel like giving up. They are the ones who nurture me through the dark night of my soul, the time when painting seems pointless and hollow. They believe in me when I cannot. They see greatness in me when I am blind. Such wonderful people, they pierce my heart and make me vulnerable to receive love. You see it in my art. The shadowy dark themes have given way to more spiritual and life affirming ones. I’ve gone from Shank to Super love, from cryptic messages of doom and gloom to affirmative messages of hope and love. And not only in my art but in my life as well. I’m meeting more and more spiritual minded people who are on similar paths. Paths that lead to healing and hope. They’ve helped me realize that we are all on one journey filled with infinite perspectives and ways of being, each with its own merit and value. I am so blessed.
For more info on Tom Swanson’s art, go to http://www.shamanictomworld.com/.
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