QTLi by Ian Swanson

Artist Spotlight: Ian Swanson

A couple of years ago, artists Ian Swanson and Cedric Tai were everywhere in Detroit. It seemed that everywhere I turned they were involved with some local art project. They had their own gigs, teamed up on projects, and they were both heavily involved with thedetroiter.com. Their energy was great for Detroit, because they are both talented artists.

Then, about a year ago, poof … they were both gone. Cedric went to Glasgow, Scotland to pursue his MFA, and Ian went to Pratt to pursue his MFA. They are both deep thinkers, so this was a logical move to allow them to explore their artistic voices. But it did leave a void.

Luckily, the distance has not made Michigan a distant memory for either of them. Detroit’s Re:View Contemporary represents both artists. And Ian actually has his first solo show with Re:View opening next month. So I thought this was a perfect time to introduce some readers to Ian, and to find out what he has been up to in his new home in Brooklyn.


henry moore nike by Ian Swanson

henry moore nike by Ian Swanson

Colin: What is your background?

Ian: My desktop background or my personal background? Currently my very cluttered desktop background is a picture of a ’97 Dodge Neon. Concerning me though… I was born in Detroit. I am 29 years old. I grew up in the thrifting mecca east of the city near St. Clair Shores/Roseville, and moved to the city around the time I was attending WSU. I’ve been showing around Detroit since about ’06, and from ’09-11 was co-running a project space called ORG at the RIC and had a studio in the old North End building. I’ve also been making some type of music w/various creeps around the city since I was a teenager. Now I’m hanging out in Bed-Stuy, mostly.

Colin: What took you from Detroit to New York?

Ian: Grad school at Pratt/a necessary change of scenery.

Colin: How has the transition been?

Ian: It’s been awesome. I’m really loving Brooklyn. Detroit you’re great but I’m seeing someone else.

Colin: How is Pratt?

Ian: Full of amazing artists and people from all over the world. I’ve met so many new friends and colleagues as a result of the Pratt community and NYC in general. Oh, and lots of cats. It’s very energizing.

Colin: What can Detroit’s art scene learn from NY’s (and vice versa)?

Ian: Detroit could probably learn to lighten up a little. NY could probably learn that it isn’t necessarily the sun around which all artists revolve.

Colin: What’s the biggest difficulty and biggest benefit from practicing in NY?

Ian: The biggest benefit is the proximity to a core of very forward thinking and ambitious artists, galleries, and museums, and the fact that the art economy here can support some of them, but that’s not the standard. W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy) and the OWS arts and labor groups are trying to address some of those issues though. The biggest difficulty is probably just the cost of living here. It’s stupid. Coffee and ice should not be $3.99. Jus’ sayin’.

Colin: What is your process (performance art and painting)?

Ian: I spend most of my free time in the studio. I spend a lot of time pacing or sitting in chairs and looking at things. I also spend a lot of time on the internet. I don’t draw or plan paintings, but sometimes I test elements in Photoshop during the process. Sculptures and performances happen a bit more organically, and are usually a result of ideas I’ve been working out for a longer time. Making the paintings helps with that.

Colin: What are you working on now?

Ian: I’m working on some new paintings, sculptures, and digital work. I’ve also been mobile scanning a lot of things and making downtempo chiptune, and been spending a lot of time with my friend Johnny Tragedy in Peekskill in upstate New York working out ideas for the Peekskill Project V. It’s a huge citywide project put together by the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art that opens in late September. I’m working in a rad 100+ year old factory up there across the river from this ominous nuclear power plant on Indian Point.

Colin: What makes a successful artist / piece of art?

Ian: What kind of success? If we’re talking financial I guess I would just say sustainability and a self-funding practice. Artistic success is harder to define. There are so many “problems”. I just try to push my own ideas and hope for some sense of accomplishment.

Colin: What’s next?

Ian: Next is coming back to Detroit for my solo show at Re:View which opens September 8th, and also a dope group show in NYC called Aggro Crag at BOSI Contemporary that opens September 5th. I’m showing with some really awesome painters at BOSI and am stoked to unveil this new work to Detroit at Re:View. Then there is the Peekskill thing, that whole writing a thesis thing, and somehow breaking this curse of floods that has been following me around lately.