Elaine Goble Swanger - Expressions: Suspended on Water

By: Brian Anderson - May, 23rd, 2013

Water, unlike any other medium, flows - sometimes controlled, and then at times beyond control - over all manner of things in sensual fashion; wetting the lips of one subject, catching a gleam in the eye of another; running and dribbling freely as it goes. As she moves her brushes through her paintings, Elaine's sense of balance allows for them to neither control too much nor sit idly by uninvolved.

Mark Twain


"The water rushed, the water swelled,
A fisherman sat by,
And gazed upon his dancing float
With tranquil-dreaming eye.
And as he sits, and as he looks,
The gurgling waves arise;
A maid, all bright with water drops,
Stands straight before his eyes."

-from "The Fisherman"
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Greer II

Colors sing words that cannot be spoken with the tongue, but instead with the brush. When they resolve, they bring out beautiful details, and then through the net slip figures with softly focused details. She cleverly judges the difference and then brushes energetically when it is her time to direct the action.


We peer through the stream of colors with their clarity, and their pure hues and beyond into a sort of dream space her subjects inhabit. Her clear blues as unmuddied ice cool placed freshly, delicately beside a selection of tones in green and earthy reds.


Some Questions for Elaine

1. Please give us a brief bio, where you are from and how you first discovered your creative talents?

I'm a freelance designer whose work focuses on theme parks and entertainment venues. It's a great kind of work to do, since the primary aim is to provide a happy and fulfilling experience for the end users. I got into this work by accident fifteen years ago after a recommendation from a former boss. Before that time, I worked in toy design, both in house and freelance.

I don't remember a time when I wasn't making things. I had dolls, like a lot of '50's-era girls, but I made clothes for them and built things for them rather than doing any kind of standard doll play. I loved watching my dad build things, and grew up with a fascination for machinery and for how things work. I won my first art contest in grade school, a heady experience! I've only focused on fine art since my kids left for college, and it's been great to have a group of fellow artists who keep a positive tone with one another. Yea, Meetup!

2. What is your definition of art?

Something feels like art when it is more than the sum of its parts. A piece of work is art if it compels a viewer to stop, ponder, and consider some facet of life in a different way afterward.

3. What is the role of the artist in society?

I think art is the only thing that lasts. A beautiful, compelling, thought-provoking piece of art or architecture is something that people will fight to preserve. Most other things in life are transient; they don't inspire passion in people after their initial impact. An artist should capture the tension and beauty of a time, and his work should bring to later generations the subjective, human experience of that time.

4. What else do you do besides make art?

I work at my day (and night) job, and I hang out with my pets and whatever family or friends are available.

5. What medium do you use?

I've been working with watercolor lately, but have done a lot of colored pencil work as well.

6. What are you working on at the moment?

Watercolor is very challenging. I'm trying to stay loose, to control the focus on the page, and to use non-realistic color to get the the feel of the model and the surroundings.

7. How much of your day is spent drawing?

I may not draw every day, but I usually draw between nine and fifteen hours a week, between work for pay and personal work.

8. How do you describe your style?

It's grounded in realism, and I try to draw accurately, but after a base is in place, I'm trying to make the paint move and to make the color enhance the basic story.

9. What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?

Working with a group is a great motivator! I look forward to seeing everyone, and to see how they are working in a given day. It pushes me to try different approaches and to refine how I handle a piece.

10. Describe one challenge you constantly face in your practice.

Staying loose is a big one, and finding the right balance between big marks and fine details is another.

11. When are you most creative?

Oddly, I do the best work when I am not quite feeling on top of things. If I'm tired, or worried, or frustrated, I attack the paper with less tension. It must be that feeling that one has when the blank paper isn't the biggest challenge one faces in a day.

12. How do you know when an artwork is complete?
There is a focus and a feeling of resolution. I hope to get a better sense of this moment as I gain experience.

13. Any influences or anyone you look up to when it comes to art?

Locally, Marlene, Brian, and Henryk are pretty fabulous influences. In the bigger picture, I've always loved Matisse's work, and some of the '50's abstract expressionists. I spent a little time in London in the Mark Rothko room at the Tate, and loved the feel of the work in that space. I love African art from the 1800's, when the pieces of art were made to be an essential part of daily life rituals. There are some inspirational quilts from the early 1900's from Gee's Bend in Georgia that have always felt edgy and graphically beautiful. I love when people make art out of whatever is at hand out of necessity.

14. Who are your favorite artists?

I'm not as familiar with current artists as I should be, but I love big scale 3D pieces that compel people to react. The City Garden is so fun to visit, because of the joy with which kids interact with some of the pieces there. I admire any artist who understands that the piece isn't complete till a viewer engages with it.

15. What artistic trend are you seeing a lot of lately?

I'm probably the wrong person to answer this question; my experience of the contemporary art world is pretty narrow.

16. How has your artistic practice changed since you first began making art?

It's a bigger part of my life now than it ever was before, and I'm more willing to take risks.

17. What is the strangest comment someone has said about your work?
I've had a few people react as if I should be doing stuff that made more sense with my age and my somewhat conventional look.

18. What advice would you give to a young artist?

Fail as often as you need to in your quest to find a direction. Art requires practice. I'm haunted by the idea that until you've practiced for 10,000 hours, you won't be ready to start focusing on the "art" of your work. I read that somewhere, and it seems like a good, if scary, starting point. Before that time, you'll be dealing with technical issues, rather than the overall statement of the piece.

19.Some people claim that they aren’t “real artists”. Do you think such a divide exists, and if so, where is the line drawn?

People who say that are people who don't feel they are very far down the experience path. Whether that matters is open to question. They are where they are, and they should find a way to focus on improvement rather than self-censure.

20. Do you have a website where we can look at your work?

Not at present, but it's in the long-term plan. 

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