Time and Space is a journal series exploring creation, human connection, and intimate spaces.
This week we’ve found ourselves inspired by our friend Henry Swanson - a Brooklyn based artist and oil painter. We took a visit to Henry’s studio, where he gave us a tour, endless laughs, and some treasured insight. Here he discusses finding community in a new place, and the significance of his childhood in his paintings.
Becoming an artist isn’t always a linear path. How would you describe your own journey? What moments of adversity stand out in your mind?
Probably every time I was viewing art as some type of lone wolf, alpha-type of pursuit rather than a community of people. I still see a lot of it - people getting in their own way by thinking that this is some type of Highlander situation where “if I don’t work with these people right now I’m so screwed” rather than acknowledging these people all around them. So probably anytime I had that mindset.
What sources of joy, strength, or pleasure do you draw from? What inspires you to create?
Riding my bicycle, playing soccer, laughing and being outside not talking about art. I love talking with people who aren’t my age, I love hearing stories about references and signifiers people have that make their lives interesting. I always ask my parents weird questions about what things were like when they were growing up and I have a fascination with the older half of the millennial generation - that we share a generation and have witnessed things through such massively different lenses. In many ways that could read as voyeuristic but where things live in one’s brain via concrete objects and triggers is wild.
What advice or words of encouragement would you give to your younger self during challenging times?
Hey, at least you’re funny.
You moved from Dallas to Brooklyn to further your career as an artist. What’s it like to be an artist in Brooklyn? Have you found a creative community here that resonates?
There is a lot of willingness, as a southerner, to try out different perspectives and sympathize with things you may disagree with - and to encounter the lack thereof, or rather a sense of stylistic or political homogeneity, in a culture hub like New York is a bit of a sea change. But also a reminder to use that sympathy and interest in others as a strength.
Creatively I’ve found a ton of new friends, almost none of whom paint, that are all massively influential every single day. That said, the Texas family up here goes the hardest and you can’t tell me different.
What’s the first Dallas meal you get when you’re in town and vise versa in Brooklyn?
Dallas - Good Friend Packaging owned by the man Matt Tobin for a ‘tiny coffee’ and Ol Dirty Breakfast Sandwich
Brooklyn - the Spanish corner deli by my studio for the rice and beans plate with the chicharron and pulled pork
Many of your pieces evoke a sense of nostalgia - a throwback to childhood innocence. Can you speak more to the significance of this in your work and in your own life?
As an image maker I don’t feel like some type of ‘who can make the sunrise and sprinkle it with dew’ person when I see or portray scenes from the past. A lot of it is thumbing my nose at monumentalizing memories as better times. But also wishing that I had some of that nostalgia. In many ways to me, nostalgia is bullsh*t. I don’t know if I feel like things are ever better or worse in my own memory. I tend to view the negative as temporary and the good as something to enjoy while it’s here. Bad things can conjure amazing inspiration.
Do you love or hate being a millennial?
I love it. Everything before and after this generation looks like complete malarkey or total chaos, respectively.
What’s your take on the approachability in art? How much of looking at a work is visceral, or do you have to be in on the joke, so to speak.
I grew up never knowing anything about what I was looking at in museums and that freedom to laugh about something, despite my own ignorance, was pure elation. If you can’t tell a young person in front of art that all they have to do to enjoy it is to be honest with themselves, then how is that person supposed to be expected to grow up and express himself in any true sense? To me there is no joke other than the one you have with yourself.
Where’s the line between craft and fine art, does it exist to you?
For that line not to exist is a luxury afforded to some. It’s a lopsided truth in the buyer community that some people are allowed to forego some type of arbitrary archival standards under the guise of conceptual profundity - but that’s garbage.
Describe your perfect work day and your perfect play day.
Perfect work day would be to be up at 7 am Monday so that I can make my own coffee and watch Last Week Tonight. Ride my bike to the studio. Get a coffee at Dashi BK. Starting filling in a piece where I’ve already sketched in the under painting. Have a flock of swimsuit models and the 1984 championship Chicago Bears break in through the door in snowboard goggles, spraying me with champagne - but magically none of my work is being ruined. Jerry Saltz is up in the mix but then gets a walloping kick to the groin by “Fridge” and all of the swimsuit models pour cups of piping hot hazelnut roast coffee out of Big Gulp cups on to his limp body. By that point it’s probably around 5 - so I would wrap up, go to play soccer with my friends, then go do the crossword puzzle with my friends at a bar called Turtles.
Perfect play day would be almost identical except I would go in to the city for a late breakfast at a place called Little Canal.
Explore More - www.henryswansonart.com