Ellen Dieter Returns to the Swift

Ellen Dieter Returns to the Swift
The Bay Park Paintings give a beautiful taste of home

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ellen Dieter Comes Home with her new show, "On the Street Where you Live: Paintings from Bay Park"

Ellen Dieter has called many places home from France( where her art career started) to Hawaii (where she now spends a lot of time) but for us she's the quintessential San Diego Painter. Ellen has had several Solo Shows with me as curator, starting in the early 2000's, but none has felt more "local" than her latest foray, rendering street scenes from her neighborhood of Bay Park, in the vivid hues of her signature palette. The paintings are a perfect antidote for the recent gray days, with their bold, high contrast blocks of color, and exuberant brushwork.
Many of the paintings, like triptych Erie and Edison (above), are named simply after the street location of the scene. There are nocturnes.....

And broad, sunny avenues
All waiting for Friday Night's opening, which will feature a Gallery Talk by the Artist at 6:30pm. "And does magic pour, out of every door?" Come see for yourself at the Swift.

Ellen Dieter: On the Street Where you Live opens Friday, March 6th from 5-8pm.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Swift Look Back Show Surprises and Delights Viewers and Collectors.

In the past five years the Swift has hosted a brilliant and varied collection of talented artists in solo shows. For this exceptional retrospective, they are all brought together under one roof for the first time. I may be biased as a curator, but I can't remember a more beautiful show.

Ellen Dieter's Jazz Series Welcomes Visitors and Warms the Walls

Artist Anna Zappoli, the first artist to have a solo show at the Martha Pace Swift Gallery, returns with a powerful and amazing new body of oil portraits in the Against the Sun series. 

Zappoli's Portraits Against the Sun Illuminate.

Widely collected artist James Watts who last graced our halls with nearly a ton of sculpture   brought a series of magnificently crafted frieze-like sculptures. Full of the artist's private system and symbology, they engage and raise questions, as in his Society Blocks, White, Neutral, Black. (Pictured below) 

Artist Larry Caveney, who had a show sponsored by the institute in our space before the Gallery was launched is showing his dynamic acrylic on canvas portraits of iconic cultural figures, both real and fictional. 

Philip Petrie and Diane O'Connor have brought their finely tuned abstract works back to grace our walls.

Petrie surprises in this show with the emergence of figure in the oil on canvas  work Mansion
Diane O'Connor's beautifully layered mixed media compositions are a striking  presence

Another favorite of the figure, artist Shahla Dorafshan, who often paints from life, presented a series of gorgeous canvases, including this standing nude, Fall is Here 

There are many more vibrant works to see at the Swift, and special activities on First Fridays, so  be sure to come out soon, and make yourself a part of it. 

Wes Chester- Curator

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Art from the Hands of Helpers: A Graduate Show for the Expressive Arts Institute Looms.

The end of a graduate education marks the end of being a student, and the beginning of a new, or vastly changed professional life. Institute graduates will proceed into the education and the helping professions, working with students or seniors, veterans or homeless youth, those suffering from profound mental illness, or those in search of  help with creativity, relationship woes, or anxieties.

But before we move into that new era in the life-work, there is a time to pause and reflect on the remarkable journey of education and artistry that these remarkable women have taken. We could look at the efforts in practicum sites, learning to apply the learning. We could look at theoretical papers and artful presentations. But in a school that has a primary mission of teaching professionals to help through the arts, the art the students have made is a singular document, of personal progress, growth, exploration and change.   

The works in this show reflect the best of a process of self exploration that all artist helpers go through. They run the range from revealing and playful, to heavy and heart felt, and all are documents of change, growth and exploration.

New works from the Graduating Class of 2013 will be on Display at the Martha Pace Swift Gallery, opening on March 3rd, from 5pm-8pm.  Come meet the graduates, and their works on any first Friday.

-Wes Chester- Curator

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Recovering the Artist II- Healing be Damned, Let's Make Some Art

The time has come once again when we honor the artists which are dearest to our hearts, closest to our mission at the Swift, and a vital part of our community. These are of course, our artists in recovery. The focus of the show is not on recovery, but on the art which emerges in  the space in between, in the place where words fail, cures stall, and pills and ills are background to the elusive process of creation. And why make art if healing isn't the goal?

Lu Larsen Celebration Acrylic on board 28"x40"
Because, as always, art is a human existential. It is as necessary as air, as predictable as love, loss, or death in our experience. Forget Maslowe's heirarchy of needs;
  • We have art from our earliest ancestors, in spite of struggling against ice ages and disease, and super predators like the Saber Tooth Tiger.
  • We have art from slaves, and from civil war prison camps.
  • We have art from Auschwitz, from people who were starving, and knew they were dying.

Art is not casual. To reduce it to "therapeutic art" on the basis of a diagnosed artist is naive. If we cannot acknowledge that images which emerge from any artist are aesthetically on a level playing field, then we rob those images of the true power and respect they deserve.

We do not look to athletes and say, "Oh. Your gifted sporting behavior must be very therapeutic." To fantasize that art by people in recovery is different; simply a cathartic struggle with no aesthetic value, is to blind ourselves to the possibility that all art is potentially equal when it comes to aesthetics.

Paolo Caravahlo- "Felines" Acrylic on Canvas 54"x54"
Recovering the Artist is not a show about how, occasionally, good artists struggle with mental illness. It is a show about how level the playing field becomes when we judge images by aesthetic merit, with no "touching back story." If you felt more connected with Van Gogh when you listen to Don McLean's song "Vincent", then you've missed the point. My experience of Van Gogh isn't a sad reminder of a troubled and isolated unrecognized genuis man.

Being in the presence of a Van Gogh is more like being suddenly punched in the face. The artist's story recedes in the presence of the genuine power of the work. Neil Armstrong ( who rocked, incidentally), couldn't have been more surprised at his first steps on the moon, than I was when I first saw the violence of the Van Gogh's sunflowers in person. Nothing can really prepare you for such an encounter.  I saw in his work, a painting achieved as if by meteoric impact, blasting down through the painted layers with unstoppable brute force...

Franco-"Depression" Acrylic on Canvas. 36"x 48"
If the art is often insanely beautiful, it isn't always easy going. Images like Franco's "Depression" hit hard and invite the viewer into a kind of personal hell, a suspended existence. But the counterpoint can be equally powerful. Lynn Marcoe's  "I Am Finally Home" dares to trace the vital awakening to recovery in almost uncomfortably strong detail. In it, we glimpse a novel idea. That her art isn't "about" healing. Her art is healing.

Lynn Marcoe, "I Am Finally Home" Acrylic on Canvas.
More than anything else, these works demonstrate the aesthetic strength of images cut loose from the constraints of their author, and their history, to offer themselves anew to our senses. Nothing further I can write will equal the experience of engaging the work with your own curiosity. Come to the show open eyed, and let it touch you.

Recovering the Artist II opens Friday, December 7th, 2012, from 5-8 pm. Please join us for refreshments, poetry readings and great art. 

Recovering the Artist is a partnership show with NAMI San Diego, The Creative Arts Consortium and The Expressive Arts Institute, in service of the community of recovering artists everywhere.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Artist Warner K. Varno Soars in Her New Show, "Bright Wings"

On Friday, August 3rd, the Swift Gallery premieres an engaging new body of work by full-time artist and part-time San Diegan Warner K. Varno. The opening of Varno’s “Bright Wings” show coincides with the monthly Gallery Crawl at Liberty Station.

Varno in her studio.
The images that make up the Bright Wings show come from three separate series. They all share a strong representational component, a brilliant palate, and thematic links that are figuratively or literally uplifting.

Each canvas is a rebus of unlikely juxtapositions. Birds join bones and blooms, vegetation and Victorian wallpapers, not as still life, but more like tapestry. Varno’s canvases vibrate with entrances and exits, and half-hidden objects.  Although the color palate ranges widely, the works share an inherent luminosity, and a depth borne of finely layered transparency. Varno’s brushwork is as meticulous, crisp and unforgiving as a medical illustrator. Yet the precision of the images does not lead to obvious interpretation. In the dense canvases a true sense of nuance and mystery emerges.  
The Falcon House 2 x 4' x 5' Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 
Varno writes:  “I am interested in grappling with our delicate humanity.  The process of creating these paintings is an acknowledgment of these life cycles and it is in the spirit of renewal that I find the source material for the artwork I create.”

Warner K. Varno is an artist in transition, settling into a part time residential relationship with local artist and legend James Watts, and looking for new living space that somehow bridges the gap between Colorado and here. Her more recent works have engaged that search for home palpably. The emergent imagery of the nest and the house have come strongly into her recent work, which is hardlysurprising as Varno also approaches motherhood, with the expected birth of her first child in October.
Please join us on August 3rd as we open Bright Wings. -Wes

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hometown Encounters Remind Me of My Own Artistic Roots

First, about me. Let's get right down to it, I had to get out...
As a creative young man, I was an odd bird in Lenoir NC.  Lenoir was a hard working town. If you weren't farming (and even if you were), most people spent their days turning out the highest end furniture and custom upholstery, a town full of craftsmen. In spite of having some of the best artisans in the world, I remember the arts be largely absent  from my experience, except on TV, where I saw occasional creative programs for children full of modern art and design.

No one I ever knew went to an art museum on purpose. I imagine there were many people who loved and even collected art in my small town. Still the standard art of my experience was the ubiquitous last supper, or Currier and Ives.  I heard lots of derisive comments about "modern art" without ever figuring out that the art I loved was modern. The furniture designers knew there was an outside world, but with a pragmatic understanding that the future wasn't for everyone. Some design forms and fabrics for upholstery echoed the traditions of Cubism, Futurism, Bauhaus and even Abstract Expressionism: clean, bright, unburdened by narrative.  However they always shared a showroom alongside more popular Victorian and Baroque designs.I figured out over time that this "modern art" was not new, and the adults around me affronted by Picasso or Braque were 50 years behind the times.

In 1962, when I was born, Broyhill Furniture released Brasilia Line, based on the futuristic architecture of  Oscar Niemeyer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Montagem_Bras%C3%ADlia.jpg But Victorian was still the rule of the day.

I did get out...at 16, to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Emily Carr College (Now University) of Art& Design and The Vancouver Museum of Art  moved me from curious observer to art-junkie. When I returned in my early 20's, things had changed drastically. Both the long-running  Annual Sculpture Celebration and the very active Caldwell Arts Council itself which  hosts touring exhibitions of note, local shows and workshops, made Lenoir one of the more artful small towns in the region. I also became aware that there were, and presumably always had been, a lot of great local artists practicing around town. Over the next many years, as Lenoir blossomed, I spent more time away.  Finally, I was following the siren song of love and career back to the west coast, this time to the lower-left.  

I currently live in San Diego CA and curate the Swift, and every element of my life is intimately tied to the arts in one way and another. But North Carolina never really left my heart again, and this place which holds my heritage and most of my family, including my beloved mother and sister. And it was a need to see my dearly missed family that sent me on a trip back to the Old North State ( I won't call it Tar Heel Country, because I am, for my sins, a Duke fan).

While making my compulsory visit to downtown Lenoir, I was saddened to see much of the recent redevelopment failing with the current economic realities. I took a walk around the quiet and empty blocks that had seemed so revitalized and alive before the real estate bubble burst.  Then a bright storefront and a name on a wall caught my eye.

There on Main Street, was the studio of local artist Charlie Frye, a hometown original, who walks the blurry line somewhere between raw and fine art. Frye's work was a revelation on my last visit, because he is a painter in Lenoir who doesn't simply focus on landscapes the beautiful Appalachian Foothills. I was particularly struck with his series of hometown portraits, and his literary portraits.  

Charlie's primary reason for being lies in the need to paint. And his recent one man show in neighboring Wilkesboro NC demonstrated he can do this on a large scale. Frye's work, although it is often of and about place, also discloses a complex interior landscape, a place where characters populate a personal mythology. His portrait of Edgar Allen Poe conveys a personal viewpoint, in a way, the place Poe occupies in Charlie's own mythology, in relation to other characters which live there. Charlie is a skilled portrait artist and a excellent draftsman of the figure, although he never does nudes. (Gosh no, not here. I guess you could call me a conservative in that sense. ) By "here" I don't know if Charlie was referring to Lenoir, or his studio in specific...in the studio he supports his paintings by teaching classes in art to people of all ages, from individual adults, to groups of home-schooled children. Charlie comes to this naturally, having entered the arts after working as a teacher.

Charlie stands before a couple of his haunting anatomical chart paintings which reflect a historical narrative about the displacement of native peoples. His work can be serious, or lighter, as in the crayon self-portrait he holds, done as an example for his students.

But for an aspiring artist, Charlie feels anything but limited by his surroundings. His work is always local in spirit, and he seems to draw strength from the kind of rootedness that being a native son provides. One landscape is painted atop a large roll down county map, of the kind that used to be in classrooms all across the school district, it serves as a sophisticated sort of layer on layer depiction of the landscape, an aesthetic argument that sometimes, "the map is the territory."

Another indication of Charlie's commitment to the region is his "Made in Lenoir" movement. Charlie promotes and markets wares made in Lenoir from his storefront studio and on his website. If you buy a painting from Charlie, it will come in a frame which he manufactures, or orders locally made from another local artisan.  He is deeply in touch with the fine wood-working history of Lenoir, and is himself a skilled craftsman.

It might be tempting to see Charlie Frye as a kind of oddity, but I feel in a way he represents some version of a larger, generational shift in American culture. It used to be that rule-one of becoming a successful artist was to move to the biggest city you could manage to reach, and spend years working your way up the food chain of galleries and patronage. Artists like Frye are redefining success by staying put, and asserting that artists have a place in all communities. If you reflect on the recent trends such as shop-local, brew-local, eat local, ideas which have become mantras of the green revolution, a local artist makes perfect sense. But artists are still often thought of as outsiders, or hobbyists, who have no place in the working life of a community.  
If you're looking for Charlie Frye, go to Lenoir, Head down Main Street, and park when you see the red wall.
Charlie Frye envisions a place for artists in community which is neither elite nor specialized. To that end, he has begun working as sign painter, hand painted, illustrated signs of the kind not seen in town since the era when wall mural advertisements were a commonplace on Statesville Brick walls. This kind of utilitarian art, the making beautiful of the commonplace is where the tie of the artist to the community has it's deep and abiding roots. They say a man with his heart in the community gives heart to it as well. I'm grateful to Charlie Fry for continuing to provide that spark.