(Ed) Swarez is a London-based, abstract expressionist artist. Believe it or not, he only began his artistic career five years ago. But because he believes in himself and his talent, he has built a very successful brand and business www.swarez.co.uk. Plus, he's got a great personality and he's clearly a "people person." Read on and you'll see what I mean.
MICHAEL: Hey Ed, You look like a fairly prolific painter. Do you paint every day? What does it mean to you?
SWAREZ: Yes, I am a prolific painter, but I rarely paint every day — even if it's for a commission. The reasons are more practical than personal. I have so many things to be done all the time that the actual process of painting accounts for a small amount of my time that I spend on my business. Of course I have nothing without the paintings, but I also have to balance output against the ability to fulfill clients' expectations. I hand deliver most of my art and I am in a constant state of planning journeys, etc ... and working on the logistics of the ownership experience — not to mention the time it takes to get from a flat, completed canvas to a sold item on the truck and on its way for delivery. I'm sure that if I were in a position of having more free time, I would create more, but in a lot of ways I have a good balance even if I end up working seven days a week almost constantly. Painting is vital in getting a life balance for sure; without that ability to create I get tetchy and anxious so it serves as a stimulant on a number of different levels. If I were without that I couldn't imagine how awful life would be.
MICHAEL: You sound very much like a businessman. How important has this been for your thriving as an artist?
SWAREZ: Very, very important. In fact, it's the most important consideration for any artist trying to survive on their art. Whilst you may be in a position of creating incredible pieces, there seems little point if you can't get it out to people who will connect with it and more importantly, buy it. Much is made about marketing art in today's diverse and rich social age, but there is really only one way to get ahead and that's to understand who is going to buy your work and go after them. If you don't have an angle on this, you're in for a hard time. I could not be in the position I'm in now and commanding the prices that I do without treating every aspect of what I do like a business. The one area I don't compromise is the art itself. I find that some types of paintings do better than others, but refuse to be drawn into a situation where I am painting for the market as I believe that compromises the quality and honesty of my work. It takes graft though and if you aren't prepared to work 20 hour days then you're pretty much wasting your time. The paintings will find their owners eventually. Importantly for me, it's all the off-shoots of the originals that add a great diversity to what I can do as an artist. Things like my painting experience days, educational visits and corporate experiences all allow me to expand the volumes of people that engage with the brand name and the artist. Exposure and perception is key — getting your name into as many places as possible no matter what and building an image and value around who you are attracts people with similar values.
MICHAEL: Some artists may consider you more of a manufacturer of art rather than an artist. I noticed you said "brand name" and "corporate experience." Those are things that some artists associate with "selling out."
SWAREZ: Interesting. I'm not sure I would know what selling out was to be honest. I know that fundamentally, I paint originals with great love and care. This is the centre of all that I do. What is also apparent is that I don't sell prints, don't have Gallery representation and don't hold shows — so what does an artist do when the originals don't sell? Starve? Moan? No, smart people DIVERSIFY. What I have done is take art away from the stuffy and pretentious echelons of adversity and put it in the hands of real people who like what I do and connect with my ethos — and if that means companies approach me to offer that to its employees, then I would be an idiot to refuse it. I wonder if those who consider me a sell-out would like to see the looks on kids' faces when they produce a five-foot piece of abstract art for the first time? I would like them to see how taking people from all walks of life through one of my 'experiences' can change someone for the better; how it reaches deep inside them and allows them to realize that they can do the impossible.
MICHAEL: Very cool. It sounds like you're doing what I'm trying to do as an art writer.
SWAREZ: Painting is so much more than just painting. What I am doing is giving people opportunity to really feel what it's like to do what I do, no matter where they come from or their personal circumstances. As far as the 'manufacturing' comment goes, well everyone has their own opinions. I like that. If reaching certain volumes means I am a manufacturer then so be it. The reality is somewhat different. I work long hours seven days a week, so I have time to paint. I also have time to think about where I want to take my business and how best to earn money. I never got into this to be wealthy and I will never change my methodology, but I know that there is a growing number of people who enjoy what I do so I intend to engage with all of them wherever I can, whether they buy from me or not. If my art sucked, I guess we wouldn't be having this conversation would we?
MICHAEL: Nice. When did you first become aware of your talent? Are you a trained artist? Are you part of an artistic family?
SWAREZ: I never picked up a paint brush until five years ago. I mean, I never did art at school or showed any talent whatsoever. Absolutely nothing! So I guess my life as an artist is only five years old! In that time, I have never had a single ounce of training from anyone (though I have recently got some feedback on how I should approach my art in terms of moods and emotional content which has proved to be akin to a re-birth). What I did was to start out with one canvas and progress from there. For me, the hardest two things I have had to deal with were finding materials I could use that would give me what I saw in my mind and a resolute defiance not to keep doing the same paintings over and over again; the need to keep fresh ideas flowing is obsessive and one that requires some serious experimenting and development before a concept hits the website. I have had to come up with my own unique formula with my paints which I have specially blended for me now. The properties are unlike anything else I have ever seen and help me to produce some of the work you see today.
MICHAEL: Wow. Still, there must be some artistic gene in your family.
SWAREZ: My family has absolutely NO artistic talent. I am the only one who has ever done anything like this. My discovery only came about as a result of a Ladies Self Defense class that (thankfully) took a break from me being the body that gets beaten up on a regular basis to become a more relaxed affair as the female instructors decided we should all go paint one day. That was the day it all began. From that day, my art career was born and has gone from there. Don't get me wrong - each day presents its own challenges and obstacles, but you learn to get over them else you may as well give up. I rarely think that what I do should be defined as 'talent' as I believe we all have this inside of us, but few people believe in themselves like I do and I think that this is the difference. I work at my craft day in and day out which means that I become better with practice; just like learning a musical instrument. If others see me as talented, I'll take that quite happily! We all have the ability to produce visual creations that engage and connect, but we don't always give ourselves the opportunity or are afraid that we may fail. I've always believed that I could do this and today my resolve is unbreakable. Even if I never sold another painting, I would continue to do paint as it's as much as part of me as my arms and legs!
MICHAEL: Good for you. You're obviously influenced by Jackson Pollock among other painters. How do you distinguish between being influenced by someone and flat out copying them?
SWAREZ: Good question. I took an interest in Pollock when I saw one of his pieces in a book. I never set out to replicate any of his work; instead I wanted to understand how they were put together and how he got the shapes that he did. As I began to practice, I found my mind wandering into ways I could develop the technique; taking the principles into new areas. I have never been interested in copying to be honest. I think it's far more challenging to come up with your own ideas. It's all too easy to copy someone else. With drip painting, there are more constraints even though it looks like the opposite. There are so many considerations to consider before you even open a can of paint. This is one reason why replication is so difficult anyway. Whether I am thought of as 'being like Pollock' or not is of no concern to me even though I am influenced by his style. I think that I am more influenced by how he did what he did (rather than what he painted) and the shock waves it caused when he got recognition for it. After having spent years studying text and pictures, I am still no further in to understanding the complexities of the man and his art. On balance, I think I prefer to leave it that way. I never like to delve into anyone's work too much as it will have a consequence, sooner or later, on what I will paint. I have a brain and a soul and there seems little point in being an artist if you're just going to sit round all day copying other people. I mean, anyone can do that right? If you have an imagination surely you should be using it. Copying is a lazy way to paint. I also like to mix things up too - I'll often combine elements of the drip technique with other mediums and styles. If I copied Pollock, then all my work would be mini versions of Autumn Rhythm No.30, No.5 or I would make huge versions or Summertime No.9A. The technique is hard to master, needs total concentration and the ability to take chaos and control it. People who come to paint with me soon realize how difficult it is to get right. The line between success and catastrophe is a very thin one. Others like Lee Krasner and Joan Mitchell have been key in influencing my styles. Lee's work was full of vibrant shaping and hard forms whilst Joan's is confident, colorful and without fear. I rarely visit public galleries to see collections by the greats to be fair, so I get what I need from a book. I have four books on Pollock, one on Krasner and one on Mitchell and that's the extent of my influences!
MICHAEL: Do you have any artist friends? What do you think about the art scene in London?
SWAREZ: Yeah I have artist friends; only a couple in a physical sense (but plenty on Twitter and Facebook). My greatest art influencer/inspiration (amongst other incredible qualities) is constantly opening my eyes to new ideas and experiences that are influencing my work for the better. It's a great thing to feed of positivity, drive and determination and a magnificent abundance of creativity. I am blessed by this. Although I sell 85% of my work to private clients in London, I don't have any handle on the 'art scene' as such. I did a few private galleries when I last went to Spitalfields Market, but to be honest I wasn't blown away by anything. I felt that the edginess had gone from gallery walls. Everyone is playing safe in these austere economic times. I can understand that for sure, but it still disappoints me. I don't expect to be shocked or outraged, but I do expect to be wowed from time to time. There's some great work out there, but it's all been done before right? Where is all the fresh stuff? No one wants to take risks at the moment.
MICHAEL: How do you reconcile risk taking in art when so many people don't "understand" contemporary art? Don't you risk alienating people even more?
SWAREZ: I don't see what I do as taking risks. Sometimes the greatest risk of them all is to play it safe. That means you don't stand out from everyone else. There's no art that's any better than anyone else's — only that which provokes reactions. I have never seen what I produce as risky even though some of it can be hard to connect with. People either tend to get my art or they don't — there's little room for middle ground. I like it that way. I have two big project genres in the design phase right now that may very well prove to be dead-ends as far as selling them goes, but I can't rest until I do them. So I guess that's a risk of sorts especially as it will be a very big investment in materials. If they come out how I imagine them, they will be genius, but that's no guarantee for anything and I am very aware of that.I'm not sure people need to understand contemporary art anyway. Weird installation type things can be tricky to digest, but as far as paintings go, they are always paintings, so you're half way there. I mean, what the hell is contemporary anyway that Modern or Conceptual isn't? Muddy waters if you ask me. Perhaps we shouldn't label anything that isn't figurative? I have never been asked about whether my work alienates people. Interesting question. I don't really care to be honest. I'm not forcing it down anyone's throat or walking around with an air of arrogance. I just paint. You either like it or you don't. Fortunately, a lot of people do and that's why I get out of bed every morning. I believe that this is partly due to me not being pretentious and bombastic or covering my work with deep intellectual crap. It's just put paint on canvas for fuck sake. Draw your own conclusions.
MICHAEL: I don't detect any cynicism in you which is refreshing. I suspect it's because you're doing your own thing and you're not beholden to anyone.
SWAREZ: Absolutely. I find freedom of being able to make your own decisions and go in your own direction very liberating. I am not at the behest of a gallery telling me that my latest collection is not what his clients want or sitting in endless hope that one day I will be discovered. I am very real in my expectations and how they play out in the real world. Freedom is not without its risks of course, but I think for me, my art is better because I am not having to think about whether what I produce will be viable in an open market. I care not for that — only for doing what I like doing. I think that's when the good stuff really comes out for any artist.
MICHAEL: Finally Ed, what are your hopes and goals for the future?
SWAREZ: Well, certainly to continue as I am for sure. I want to bring out two or three new projects that will complement the canvas art within the next six months, I guess. Longer term, I would like to get involved with a civic project perhaps or do something really massive somewhere where the public can see and interact with it. I don't care about exhibitions as such, but wouldn't mind grabbing a warehouse in the middle of nowhere and turning it into Disneyland for a week and create a dramatic staging for a show. Bold, brash and very in-your-face ... because it's not the done thing with art really is it? All the more reason to do it then! Everything else is academic really. As long as I can keep painting, I will always find new areas to develop the creativity and also how that can be taken to the public so they get a chance to experience it too. This is just as important for me as keeping it insular within the confines of the studio space. In five years, I have gone from one little canvas to the business model I have now, so it makes me wonder what I will be capable of in the next five. Been great to chat with you Michael thanks for that — best interview I've ever done! Thank you very much. Hope you had fun too!
MICHAEL: I did indeed Ed. More power to you.
To find out more about Swarez and his work, check out his website at www.swarez.co.uk.