Blog

The news of artist, environmental activist, documentary film producer and philanthropist Susan Swartz.

A Solo Exhibition at the Museum Ludwig Koblenz

Evolving Visions, 2015

Museum Ludwig Koblenz and Susan Swartz Studios are proud to announce Susan Swartz's solo exhibition, A Personal Path.  Consisting of approximately 80 major works, Susan's paintings will be featured in the entire museum and will be on view from May 21 to August 2, 2015.  The Exhibition will include a number of very recent paintings as well as significant earlier work from private collections and museums. 

Susan Swartz explores the landscape through potent colors and richly layered abstract paintings.  With her evocation of coastal splendor and mountain drama, Susan follows in the tradition of the great German painters such as 19th century Romantic sage, Caspar David Friedrich, and 20th century icon Gerhard Richter.  She is inspired by the intersection of art, nature, and spirituality.

As Susan's relationship with nature has evolved, her painting has progressed from a realist style to an abstract style.  A Personal Path reveals the depth of her work and the evolution of her abstract paintings.

The Museum Ludwig was founded in 1992 and its permanent collection was assembled by the well-known collectors Peter and Irene Ludwig.  The collection is mainly post-1945 German and French art with well-known artists represented such as Pablo Picasso, Jean Dubuffet and American artists, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg. 

The museum regularly presents major special exhibitions and is proudly featuring Susan Swartz's work.

The Bhutan Series

Rice Fields and Prayer Flags 

Rice Fields and Prayer Flags 

The Bhutan Series is a new set of paintings inspired by Susan’s recent trip to Bhutan, the land of Gross National Happiness. Focusing on native vibrant colors, The Bhutan Series explores the region’s landscape, in particular its rare confluence of spirituality and natural beauty. The Series contains five pieces, several referencing the ubiquitous prayer flags that seem to spring naturally from the Bhutanese landscape. With similar brushstrokes of whites and vivid colors, the prayer flags pop and move as if blown by the wind, and these contrasting colors produce a sense of unity between Bhutan’s natural splendor and the flags’ man-made material.   The relationship between the environment and Happiness shows just how intertwined are human life and nature.  Similarly the strength and emotion of Susan’s work reflect the tension she sees between the beauty of nature and the pain it has caused her.  In Bhutan, Susan was reminded of the softer, more loving and spiritual side of nature.  

The largest painting in the Bhutan Series, Rice Fields and Prayer Flags (48 x 72), shows the richness of the Bhutanese countryside, recalling rice paddies and forested mountainside.

Prayers Over Rice Fields

Prayers Over Rice Fields

In Prayers Over Rice Fields (20 x 20) the blowing prayer flags span the diagonal of the canvas, emphasizing the force of the wind.  

Prayers Afloat

Prayers Afloat

Using the prayer flags as a connector, Susan, in Prayers Afloat, depicts the interaction between these materials and the sky.  The softer contrast alludes to a greater spirituality and reinforces the natural relationship between the prayer flags and the Bhutanese countryside.

Joy

Joy

Joy (36 x 48) uses varied colors with an emphasis on red hues.  The superficial layers of Joy seem chaotic, but look deeper to discover a sensation of spirituality and peacefulness. 

Bhutan September

Bhutan September

Bhutan September (48 x 48), with its softer tones and abstracted images of tress, offers yet another perspective of the Bhutanese landscape.  Various shades of greens and whites invoke a soft, warm, and inviting feeling, alluding to the peace and happiness nature provides. 

For Susan, painting is her release, another form of spirituality.  Her work and process of connecting spirituality and nature takes to heart the ideals of Gross National Happiness.

Beyond the canvas - 15 years of supporting documentaries

Susan Swartz with Amy Ziering, Producer of  The Hunting Ground 

Susan Swartz with Amy Ziering, Producer of The Hunting Ground 

During the last half of January, Park City, Utah transforms into the “it” destination for film lovers, celebrities, and other affiliates of the motion picture industry.  Sundance shows over 200 films across all genres. This year’s documentary category was particularly strong due to many of the films’ topical subject matter.  Combining her passions for philanthropy and art, Susan Swartz has been actively involved with the emergence of documentary films at Sundance over the past 15 years, hosting the first documentary parties at her home and founding Impact Partners in 2007.

Six of the eight films Susan was involved with were produced with Impact Partners, an organization that brings together filmmakers and film investors / philanthropists to create cinema that engages pressing social issues. 

The films Susan worked on with Impact Partners cover a broad range of topics including film, environmental, and international history; prostitution; and sexual assault.  Censored Voices reveals, for the first time, interviews with Israeli soldiers returning from the battlefield of the 6-Day War in 1967.  Chuck Norris vs Communism looks at the impact Western films had on Romania during the Cold War. Dreamcatcher, a British film, tackles the world of prostitution through the eyes of a former prostitute turned powerful advocate for the community.  In How to Change the World viewers learn about the 1971 nuclear test zone protest that led to the founding of Greenpeace, now a leading environmental advocacy group.  Sembene! celebrates the “father of African cinema,” a man who gave Africans a voice. 

Susan with Regina Scully, Executive Producer of  The Hunting Ground 

Susan with Regina Scully, Executive Producer of The Hunting Ground 

 One of the most important films at the Festival was The Hunting Ground.  Using verite footage and first-person testimony, The Hunting Ground follows survivors of rape and related crimes on college campuses as they deal with the aftermath of sexual assault.  A timely film, The Hunting Ground shows the larger effects of sexual assault by looking at various organizations including politicians and support groups.

Susan was directly involved with two other films. Taking a different approach to gender differences and issues, The Mask You Live In looks at the effects a narrow definition of masculinity has on boys and men.  Racing Extinction, directed by Louie Psihoyos (Academy Award-winner for The Cove), reveals the issues surrounding endangered species and mass extinction.  Susan and Louie worked together on The Cove, so Racing Extinction allowed for them to further develop their relationship as well as discuss additional opportunities for environmental films. 

Susan with Louie Psihoyos, Director of  Racing Extinction  

Susan with Louie Psihoyos, Director of Racing Extinction 

Susan’s involvement with Sundance’s documentary films has allowed her to explore other art forms and connect with a larger and varied audience.  Her work extends beyond the filming process – she supports both the filmmakers and subjects by providing a space in which creativity can thrive.  Susan has created a network that gives voice to the voiceless and exposes the oft-unseen realities of the world at large.

Sundance Film Festival Utah Women's Leadership Celebration

Sundance Institute and Zions Bank have joined forces to recognize women leaders in the arts.  This year’s award celebration fell at the end of the Sundance Film Festival, which hosted discussions and events surrounding the roles of women in the arts, particularly the film industry.  The award holds significant weight, occurring at a time when women in the film and television industries are trying to raise awareness and shift paradigms of gender norms.

The event celebrated women onscreen, behind the independent lens, and local role models.  As an involved member of the documentary film community and an artist, Susan’s award reads as follows:

For her leadership in the arts, we recognize Susan Swartz, an internationally acclaimed visual artist who explores nature through potent colors and richly layered abstract paintings. Inspired by the intersection of art, nature and spirituality, her distinctive style has earned her a place in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the Springville Museum of Art.  Susan was the Official Olympic Environmental Artist for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and is published in the Gibbs Smith collectors book Painters of the Wasatch Mountains.  She is a member of the Deans Council of the Harvard Divinity School and a Founder of the Christian Center of Park City and Impact Partners, producing many award winning documentary films.  

The award was presented at the Sundance Film Festival Utah Women’s Leadership Celebration, a luncheon and private film event honoring female leaders in the arts.  The luncheon included a presentation by Geena Davis, Academy Award-winning actress and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media.

At the end of the celebration, Zions Bank presented Geena Davis with a Susan Swartz original painting in recognition of all the hard work she has done for women in media and the arts.  In Susan’s words the painting, Crimson Fog, “symbolizes Geena’s exuberance for life and activist endeavors.  The red color of the painting represents Geena and the strength and capabilities that women hold.”

Susan is honored to have participated in this celebration and to have been able to help Zions Bank recognize Geena for her impact on women in the arts.  Geena, Susan, and the women in attendance have been and will continue to be trailblazers for women in the arts and media.

Combining Spirituality With Nature: Susan's Trip to Bhutan

 

 

 

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a land of startling beauty and aesthetic contrast: craggy peaks and verdant valleys, fraying rope bridges stretching across milky blue glacial rivers, terraced rice paddies and stone templates strung with faded prayer flags. Much has been made of Bhutan’s promotion of Gross National Happiness as its primary national measurement.

 

A New York Times T Magazine article quoted Kinley Dorji, the head of Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communication explaining the principle: “When we say ‘happiness,’ we have to be very clear that it’s not fun, pleasure, thrill, excitement, all the temporary fleeting senses. It is permanent contentment — with life, with what you have. That lies within the self.”

 

This fall, Susan traveled to Bhutan and was bowled over by the country’s astounding natural beauty and the rich otherness of its culture. As Susan absorbed the country’s dramatic wild spaces and its complex modern history, she was most struck by the pervasive relationship of Bhutanese spirituality to the landscape. And the evident outcome of this connection indeed felt like a deep contentment.

 

“I have always sought refuge and inspiration in nature,” explains Susan. “And while the religious language and the landscapes of Bhutan are foreign to my own background, the reverence for the divine in nature was immediately familiar.”

 

The universality of this ecological spirituality inspired Susan to create two new paintings. Both large-scale works of acrylic on canvas are dominated by the deep green hues that characterize the country, with layers of nuanced texture and meaning.

 

Bhutan - Rice Fields and Prayer Flags (48 x72) is a characteristically large painting that conveys the contagious joy and that Susan observed and felt throughout her travels in Bhutan. The fecund hues of green dominate the canvas, recalling the productive rice paddies and lush forested mountainsides. This vivid green is punctuated by energetic accents of white and yellow, like playful prayer flags waving in the sunshine.

 

September (48x48) With a name that references a Buddhist ecological allegory, this square painting depicts a more intimate and peaceful view of the Bhutanese forest. The textured abstractions of rich greens and yellows convey the forest as the unfettered and eternal source of vitality of and youthfulness.  

 

The Hike For Hunger

Tomorrow afternoon, the Christian Center of Park City will host an event that has become a tradition in the area. The annual Hike for Hunger will bring together people from all walks of life to raise awareness of issues related to hunger and poverty and the charitable work done by the Center to address these concerns.

As a co-founder, board member, and active supporter of the Christian Center, Susan Swartz is poised to assist in the effort to bring greater visibility to these issues and will participate in the hike with her family and friends.

Founded in 2000, in large part thanks to Susan’s vision and drive, the Christian Center is a community organization that provides services and support to those in need throughout the Park City region. Regular happenings include appearances by prominent spiritual leaders and authors, seminars and volunteer opportunities. The Center runs a Snacks for Backpacks program, providing nutritious small meals to school age children in need, as well as a food pantry, counseling services and a free legal clinic for community members. Striving to provide support to people when, where and how they need it most, the Center relies on the financial and material support of individuals and institutions.

The Hike for Hunger is in its third year and will take place tomorrow, September 13, 2014 at the Deer Valley Resort’s Snow Park Lodge. All are welcome to attend, activities for children of all ages will be provided on site.  Check in begins at 2:00 PM and registration remains open

From The Sea To The Mountains

As the Salzburg Festival commences in earnest this week, Susan Swartz has made the trek from her studio on the sea in Martha’s Vineyard to the mountains of Austria. Traveling to Salzburg to celebrate the beginning of the Festival and the continuation of her exhibition, A Personal Path, Susan’s journey is in many ways representative of the breadth of her collection. From the waves that lap at the shores of Massachusetts to the winds that blow across the forested peaks of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, Susan is a master of depicting scenes of great beauty from both settings.

Take, for instance, Festival of Color, which seemingly celebrates the energy, light and whimsy of a day on the shore. Here Susan captures a moment so many of us know; looking at the painting you can almost feel the sun on your face and hear the tide rolling in, the foamy edge of the water sneaking toward your toes. Turn then to Moonlit Moment and feel the warm evening breeze passing through the trees all around you, hear the leaves whispering and the bright chirp of crickets, see the fireflies blinking.

It’s no wonder Susan’s work has been welcomed in Salzburg, where majestic mountain peaks surround the city, and crystal clear lakes invite visitors to bask for hours on end. It’s no surprise so many patrons feel a personal connection to her paintings; though many of her pieces are abstract, they so elegantly capture not just the scenery but also the elements of nature that you can’t help but feel immersed in the world of the canvas before you.

It is this connection between memory and imagination that makes viewing Susan’s work a truly spiritual experience; her paintings awaken not only the mind, but also the soul. The great triumph of A Personal Path as an exhibition is that it brings together additional elements, both cerebral and spiritual. At the heart of the University of Salzburg, the Kollegienkirche is a seat of education as well as worship.

The white walls of this splendid church are, in their own way, a blank canvas on which Susan’s paintings will reside for another two weeks. With the addition of masterful musical performances in the space, thanks to the Salzburg Festival, the potential for divine inspiration and personal reflection is at an all time high. From the sea to the mountains and back again, Susan takes her patrons on the journey with her, inviting everyone to pause and remember a time when life was simpler, or to imagine a place where harmony reigns.

A Personal Path remains open until August 5, 2014 at the Kollegienkirche in Salzburg, Austria. 

Salzburg Festival Explores Religion Through Music

The Kollegienkirche Salzburg hosts one of the first events of the Salzburg Festival with a sold out crowd in attendance. Susan's paintings line the walls from the front entrance, all the way up to the altar.

The Kollegienkirche Salzburg hosts one of the first events of the Salzburg Festival with a sold out crowd in attendance. Susan's paintings line the walls from the front entrance, all the way up to the altar.

In a matter of mere weeks, the city of Salzburg will erupt with activity as the annual Salzburg Festival commences on July 18. The streets will bustle with visitors from more than 70 countries, restaurants and coffee shops will buzz with conversations in different languages, and the various venues for the Festival performances will fill to capacity.

As the Festival launches its six-week run, attendees will be treated to a unique presentation, a concert series entitled “Overture Spirituelle – Christianity and Islam.” For the first time, an evolving exploration of Islamic ritual and religion will take place at the Salzburg Festival, largely employing orchestral pieces written in the Christian tradition.

The progressive series of performances, readings and discussions will include renditions of Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Bal-Kan’s Honey and Blood, and Handel’s Israel in Egypt among many others. Of the 22 individual performances in the series, eight will take place at the Kollegienkirche, the site of Susan Swartz’s current exhibition, A Personal Path.

This is a delightful confluence of events, the coming together of these two themed artistic presentations. The musical series will bring people into the Collegiate Church to hear masterpieces and to reflect on the history and sacred practices of Islam. Susan’s exhibition will surround the listeners – bearing witness to the complementary nature of the visual and performing arts.

A Personal Path was always meant to comment on the connection between spirituality and artistic expression.  That a portion of the Salzburg Festival is devoted to raising the profile of discussion about religion and spirituality is a poignant reminder of the intimate relationship between human faith and creativity.

Salzburg has historically been a seat of the Roman Catholic Church, this celebration of Islamic religion along with Christianity pays tribute to the eloquent words of Sufi master Muzaffer Efendi, “Religion is like a river flowing through many countries. Each country calls this river by a different name, possibly even claiming it for itself. Actually, however, the river is independent of countries and also springs from one source.” The unification of individuals of different faiths through the power of music and art is extraordinary.

Prof. Dr. Walter Smerling summed this notion up beautifully in the catalog for A Personal Path when he said, “Particularly in a church one finds oneself as a believer, a seeker or as a mere observer in a maelstrom of emotional states. And particularly in a church these themes lend themselves more easily to discussion and reflection. And if by virtue of its emotive force, art is capable of rendering such issues experiential and describable, then where better to stage this aesthetic presentation than in the Collegiate Church?”

The Extension of A Personal Path

Once in a while we are treated to something unexpected that reminds us of the power of human creativity and passion. A Personal Path at the Kollegienkirche in Salzburg is one of those rare treats and the announcement of the exhibition’s extension through fully half of the world-famous Salzburg Festival is a magnificent icing on the cake.

The 19-piece exhibition of Susan Swartz’s work at this historic religious landmark in Salzburg, Austria opened on May 30 and has garnered international acclaim – with prominent German and Austrian publications lauding its splendor. Now set to close on August 5, the exhibition will remain open as the Salzburg Festival, a renowned annual celebration of classical music, opera and theatre gets underway.

This is truly a feat of cooperative effort, planning and careful execution. With the Foundation for Art and Culture in Bonn, Germany leading the charge, the launch of the exhibition and its subsequent extension are a reality thanks to the support of The Salzburg Foundation, The Salzburg Festival, the Roman Catholic Chaplaincy of Salzburg, the University of Salzburg and the staff of the Kollegienkirche itself. With so many cooks in the kitchen, any number of issues could have stifled or stalled this fantastic project and yet, it has come together seamlessly in only six months time.

The Salzburg Festival will bring music lovers from the world over to the city from July 18 through August 31. Many of them will visit the Kollegienkirche during their stay, as it is the site of a number of official Festival events. Upon entering the church they will see Bright Sunny Day to their right and Creation 4 to their left. The vivid colors and energy of these two pieces warm the hall.

Venturing further into the body of the church, visitors will encounter Landscape of Resonances 004 followed by Landscape of Resonances 012, two pieces of similar textures with very different characters. Traveling around the space, Festivalgoers will find Layered Light, Heaven, and Whisper of Spring II, three pieces that invoke entirely different moods, among a dozen others.

Perhaps some viewers will wonder at the disparate feelings emanating from each piece – how could one artist create such extraordinarily different works? How could one person find the inspiration for all of these? These are logical questions, to be sure. The church itself begs anyone who walks across its threshold to rest awhile, basking in its peace and light. In the same way, Susan’s paintings ask viewers to spend time, to sit or stand with them and ask questions, aloud and internally.

For two full weeks, the Salzburg Festival and A Personal Path will intersect, creating a wondrous opportunity for music lovers to find a painting at the Kollegienkirche that matches the intensity of the orchestral, vocal, operatic or theatrical performances they have come to enjoy.

The Arrival of Summer

Summer is settling upon Martha’s Vineyard like a picnic blanket atop a hill. As the sun’s rays grow stronger and friends and neighbors flock toward the shore, we are reminded of the awesome power of the sea to motivate and inspire.  There is no better time than this moment to reflect upon Susan Swartz’s water paintings – the breadth and depth of which are not to be overlooked.

Susan’s water pieces are impressively diverse. They are bright, they are deep, light seems to reflect and refract within them just as on the surface of the sea. The Water Study series alone is a perfect snapshot of the mood swings of the ocean, capturing the color and movement of water as it flows and rages.

The evolution of the Water Study paintings is progressive. Water Study 1 through 5, are impressionistic, the horizon line is evident as radiant light emanates from the water’s edge. Water Study 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11 are more abstract and capture the rapid movement of lapping waves, bubbling brooks or rolling rivers. Water Study 10 interrupts the progression, returning us to the definitive body of water we were acquainted with before, with the horizon holding out against the motion above and beneath it.

Apart from the stylistic differences, the color changes from one piece to the next are notable and intriguing. The hues of nature are vast and varied, and Susan’s paintings leave no doubt that she embraces a nontraditional and yet realistic representation of the earth, the sky, the air and the water.

Glancing across a bay on a bright, sunny day reveals a scene of iridescent blue in the sky, a deep, resonating blue in the water, perhaps with a horizon line dotted with brilliant green. Looking at Susan’s Water Study paintings you know that she has visited that scene in her mind and in life, but she has dared to see the golden glow of the morning on the same bay, the warm pink tones of dawn. She has also seen the burning reds and oranges of sunset and the turbulent greens and grays that signify great depth below.

We could all appreciate the water in this way, seeing more than what meets the eye on first glance, maybe more so if we spend some time with the Water Study series this summer.