Mike Swaney was one of the founding members of Human Five, an art collective that was started by a group of friends based out of Vancouver. They ruled. I caught up with Mike who is now living in Spain. It’s nice to see that he’s been holding down the fort.
You’ve been living in Europe for quite some time now (6 years or something wild like that). When you first set off on your journey was life in Europe on the radar?
Someone told me there was tons of gold to be found over here. I initially set off on a general globe-trot with the final destination being New Zealand, I have relatives there. I started off in South-east Asia and Spain was kind of a spontaneous, instinctual check point on the trip. I ended up staying. At the time, leaving Vancouver and starting fresh somewhere else was absolutely necessary.
I like to picture of what your studio looks like. Tell me how has your art practice has evolved since the Human Five days?
My practice has changed enormously since those Human Five days. When you’re accustomed to working a specific way for so long such as, constantly exchanging opinions and processes with a trusted group of friends, suddenly making decisions alone becomes a huge dilemma. I think I’ve always considered my friends’ work in Human Five better than mine so it was like I was constantly trying to keep up with them without really investigating what it was that I wanted to do. We used to work on everything together so style and intellectual property always had a very foggy border. Since working on my own for several years I’ve finally begun to develop some intrinsically personal ideas and directions, and as stupid as it sounds I find making the right decisions after awhile becomes elementary.
Your images are so exuberant. I’m mesmerized by them trying to find the entry point. How do you go about starting a drawing or collage?
For the collage work I usually begin by looking through photos…most recently my own photo archive. I don’t make plans or sketches for each piece but simply draw the images quickly onto the surface and from there start filling in space with colored papers. For me everything works best when I don’t spend too much time thinking about what’s going to happen next.
Those old chocolate commercials, not sure what brand it was…I recall rivers and banks of chocolate..maybe a chocolate waterfall too. They always gave me a very royal feeling.
Pangea, Google, the illustrations and cover pages you had to do in high school for reports on countries. Pale blue. globes with mountain reliefs.
Blueberry pie mixing with the ice cream on a searing hot day.
That word always brings me back to the Thai jungle where I did a 10 day meditation retreat. You weren’t allowed to talk for 10 days and they gave you a pillow made of wood, a sheet, and a mosquito net. The beds were concrete, elevated slabs with a wicker mat on top. There were these amazing natural hot pools where you could go in between meditation sessions and at night bats would fly overhead. I remember being disgusted once because this one guy was shaving in it while a bunch of us were sitting there relaxing. Everyone had a daily chore and mine was sweeping out the gazebos. There was always red ants all over the ground and i had to sweep them away but every time they would eventually crawl their way up the broom and bite my arms and legs.
Are there any rituals you go through before making work?
Where does your inspiration come from? Childhood, films you’ve seen, artists you know? Can you explain how this informs your work.
Kippenberger, Guston, Fischil and Weiss, Paul Mccarthy, Erwin Wurm, Jockum Nordstrum, Tal R, Gelitin, Tom Sachs, Thomas Hirschhorn to name a few… these people really inspire me. I’ve been absorbing so much imagery for so long, I’ve started to notice the common thread through it all is humor. I’ve always liked the films for Werner Herzog and David Lynch and also I really enjoy dark, disconcerting films where you don’t really know what’s happening but are fully intrigued. I hope people may have similar feelings while looking at my art. Music plays a bigger part in my work, especially dancehall. A lot of times the titles of works and even some of the scenarios are based on dancehall, dance moves, Jamaican slang and song titles. Since moving to Spain its’ popular culture, traditions, festivals and day to day curiosities……all this exudes inspiration for me. After four and a half years of living here it’s still an adventure every time I leave the house.
Can you talk a little bit about representation? What galleries are you linked with?
I have done a lot of research getting in touch with galleries, seeking out those I like and artists I feel in tune to. Almost all of the shows I’ve been part of have been because of recommendations by other people/galleries/friends or because of people randomly contact me. I have a couple group shows coming up in April. In San Francisco at Guerrero Gallery, and Gallery 16 in June also in SF. I’ll be in group shows at Adhoc Galeria in Vigo, Spain. At Galleri Christoffer Egelund in Copenhagen and the Guasch Coranty Painting Prize Exhibition at Centre d’Art Tecla Sala in Barcelona.