Indeed we cannot imagine how a mind could paint. It is by lending [her] body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings.
- Maurice Merleau-Ponty ( “Eye and Mind.” The Primacy of Perception)
Yvonne Swahn is a painter whose abstract art reflects movement. Her works take the viewer on a journey that incite mental and physical reactions. And though her work is often discussed in relation to poetry, there is another dimension that encourages movement through time and space.
My first experience with Yvonne Swahn’s art was a few months after my move to Sweden. Swahn was preparing for a studio move, the first in 15 years. The studio that she was preparing to leave was at one time a mental hospital, which would soon provide housing for immigrants. It came as no surprise that moving was the topic of our conversation.
During the early part of her career Swahn focused on graphics. Today, her aesthetic is a cross between Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly combined with a bit of mixed-media practices. Her visual dialogue expresses passages through time and memory. Her art also suggests that navigating through abstract spaces has the ability to generate multiple sensory and cognitive meanings. Swahn states, “In my mind, I am getting on a train that will not stop. And this was a genuine feeling that I had; I was getting on a train that had been running all the time…” This analogy best describes Swahn’s creative process.
Livboy is a profound example of the train metaphor. The viewer is encouraged to move around the space thus alluding to the idea of travelling. The texture on the doughnut shaped sculpture resembles train tracks. Tags encompass the entire work. These remind the viewer of ribbons that are tied to luggage so travelers can distinguish their belongings. The piece is created by wrapping carpet gauze around old clothes. This references packing prior to travelling, but also represents the complexity of her work. She comments, “My works are portraits, but not in the traditional sense because they are portraits of my mind. I always have a feeling that I am heading somewhere far away.” Experiencing Swahn's work is a journey. Each piece symbolizes a voyage.
Molnet is a white textured, entangled, oval object that is suspended in air. Again, the viewer is encouraged to walk around this organic yet methodically constructed work. Molnet awakens childhood memories of cloud watching. At that moment, the viewer is transported back in time to an age of innocence and imagination.
Lockande Sammanhang is a heavily layered work that incorporates shades of dark blues, bright reds, and black undertones. You immediately feel the artist's passion when looking at this piece. The canvas is covered with scratches, splotches, and specks of gold. The complex center is smeared with yellow and gold hues. White traces blend with red smudges creating shades of pink. Swahn’s unique application of the gold colored metal in this work creates an almost shattered mirror effect. As you move around the piece, reflections of self surprisingly appear.
Swahn’s process is a bit unpredictable. The pieces begin to take on a life of their own through a unique call and response action between the work and the artist. Swahn states, “I start with a spot here and there but I am not sure where the spots will lead me, so there becomes an interplay between me and the [work]. Most of the time it continues and when I think I am done, I realize I am not near done, so I destroy [the work] and the process continues and when it is really hopeless it starts to grow [into] something that is very important and from that point the picture emerges.” Similar to Lockande Sammanhang, Främmande Mark exemplifies the relationship between the artist and her canvas.
Främmande Mark is another heavily layered painting. It appears a bit weathered, rusted, or even antiqued, andengages the viewer like an old friend. The color palette is warm and inviting with hues of gold, yellow, black, blue, white, and copper. The canvas is covered with smudges, scratches, splatters, and drips. Each of the gestural actions reflects how Swahn physically places herself into the work. While contemplating each stroke, the viewer has the opportunity to experience Swahn’s energy and share her journey.
Yvonne Swahn’s art takes on a life of its own and engages with the viewer. The involvement between the viewer and the artwork stimulates a physical and emotional reaction. Physically navigating around the work evokes a passionate response that is followed by a journey through past experiences, present conditions, and future dreams.