Thursday Spotlight: Cole Swavely

Tell us about your background.
The majority of my life has taken place within a 35 mile radius of my hometown– between Providence and Boston. My parents are both artists, which had an obvious impact on my sensibilities. My father studied product design, and my mother studied painting, and as such I see myself as somewhere in between design and fine art. I did my undergrad studies at Massachusetts College of Art & Design, in Boston, where I majored in Illustration. While I was there I took almost all of my electives in printmaking. I realized pretty quickly that I was more interested in fine art than commercial art, but I am thankful that I studied Illustration because of the technical and conceptual foundations it gave me. I took a year off between undergrad and graduate school, and taught art in after-school programs, was a Teacher’s Assistant at MassArt, and most importantly, worked with artists with disabilities. I’m now an MFA Candidate in Printmaking at RISD.
Name some people, artists, artistic genres that have been influential in your work.
My influences are constantly evolving, as they should be. The constants have always been within German Expressionism, most notably Kathe Kollwitz. She and her contemporaries are not only a major stylistic influence, but their back stories provide endless fascination for me as well. Andrew Wyeth is another major influence, and while my work is quite different than his, I still can find a lot of inspiration from his works and his interviews. I would be remiss to not mention some Illustrators that I admire: NC Wyeth (Andrew’s father), Brad Holland, and Chris Ware. As most of my work deals with data visualization and its associated imagery, Chris Ware is a definite influence, along with Julie Mehretu, Bridget Riley, and the books of Edward Tufte. My studio practice is also fully integrated with my fitness practice, so anything that inspires me and motivates me to exercise is incorporated– mostly military and selected sports themes. I’m not an organized sports fan, but there are certain people and events that get me fired up.
My work with artists with disabilities made a huge impression on me– in terms of growing as a person, but also as an artist. I found the way that these people made art to be extremely refreshing, and really strengthened the belief I have in the importance of art.
Where and how do you get your ideas?
My studio practice revolves around my efforts to improve my fitness, with the eventual goal of joining the military. In order to be successful in becoming more fit, I needed to completely integrate my time in the studio and my time in the gym– I have no problem motivating myself to make artwork, but it can be tough to motivate myself to get physical. The recording process provided me with a wealth of data about the often mystifying process of ‘getting into shape,’ and I was able to make work based off of my data, to make my gym work more enjoyable and productive. I am a disciplined and organized person, so I used these tendencies to my advantage. I tracked my process across several objective and subjective parameters, and this became my generative process. I get ideas for artwork while I’m exercising, and I reinforce my motivation and fitness commitments while I’m making artwork. I recorded myself doing various workouts–most notably boxing– and then created artwork off of these, organized and color-coded based off of the systems I had established.
     I also created a library of videos and images that motivates me. The images are all chosen based on my personal associations– some are from events that have influenced me, some are photos I’ve taken, and some are from my family. This summer, I’m on the north fork of Long Island, which is fantastic for my fitness practice, as there are a lot of ways I can exercise here (swimming, biking, etc), but I don’t have access to a printmaking shop. As a result, I’m making rubyliths of images from my image library while also recording my usual metrics (workouts, food eaten, internals, etc). I can bring these rubyliths back to Providence and make silkscreens from them. This serves as a way to have a disciplined daily practice where the products are both exercise- and artwork-related.
What materials do you work with: describe your technical process
 I work in all printmedia, but right now I’m mostly working in silkscreen. I do silkscreen with photo processes, and I use rubylith as my main stencil material. This description of silkscreening is very brief and incomplete, but to make a silkscreen stencil, you coat the screen in a light-sensitive fluid (emulsion), and then expose it to a UV light on a vacuum light table. You can block out areas of the screen with anything that light won’t pass through, like paper, acetate with opaque paint on it, or rubylith. The unexposed areas can be washed out with a hose, and then printed through with ink and a squeegee. Rubylith is a layer of thin, red plastic attached to a thicker sheet of acetate through static electricity. You can use an X-acto to cut out parts of the rubylith (they peel right off), and then use that as a photo-stencil. The rubylith is transparent (albeit with a red color), so you can put an image under it and use it as a guide. I like doing rubylith because I work fairly small and like a lot of detail, which it is good for. Besides silkscreening, I also work with gouache and colored pencils, along with monotype and woodcuts.
What do you find the most challenging part of being creative?What is the best part of being creative?
 I think that for me the most challenging part of being creative is thinking about my future and my career. I have no doubt that I will always be an artist, and that I will always create things. Being an artist is interesting–where I have the advantage of being a critical thinker with a wide set of skills–but there is no set path for a career in art. This is difficult to accept for someone like myself, who likes structure and discipline. I feel like I can use my abilities to have a successful career as an intelligence officer, as a teacher, or as an artist– among other things. It’s exciting to have a lot of options and a lot of interests, so I would say that thinking about the future is also the best thing about being creative– because my path is not set, I am not locked in to a career as a printmaker or illustrator, per se, and I can pursue that which I find most interesting.
What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?
 I think that a lot of artists are artists because they have to be. In the work I did with artists with disabilities, I saw that these people made artwork not only because they wanted to, but also because they needed to.
If someone wants to become an artist, seek inspiration and support. I’ve had wonderful support over the years, and a huge part of your growth comes from interaction with other artists– that’s a major part of any MFA program.
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