In the recent years, my brother (a local artist) introduced me to several watercolor painters. He showed me how skilled watercolorists could make their work. I was and am completely fascinated that there are people who master watercolor to the point that they make photo realistic paintings. Bessann Swanson is one of those painters.
I see from your website, bessannswansonart.com, you did not do any shows before 2005, did you begin painting around that time?
â€œI didn't start painting until eight years ago. It was a time of life when I could come up for air after marrying, starting a career and mothering. With all of that, it wasn't enough, I needed something more! Why art? Why painting? I have no idea, I must have needed a challenge.â€
What is it about watercolor that you enjoy as a medium?
â€œWatercolor is so fluid, so fresh, when it works, it is just breathtaking! OK, it doesn't always work, then you call it a lesson in letting go, we all need that. It's portable, it's inexpensive, I could go on and on, but really, I just love the look of watercolor.â€
Are all of your paintings done in plein air? (Plein air translates to â€œin the open airâ€).
â€œMost of my paintings are not done in plein air, they are done from photos taken outdoors. Having said that, when I do work plein air, I work small, like 5x7â€ or smaller, quickly finishing before light changes, I give myself a two hour limit. Sometimes I start when the light is bad, i.e. floodlighting sunlight, but knowing that the shadows will come. By the time I've gotten the drawing made and beginning washes down, I finish with the shadows.â€
How do you decide what to paint?
â€œIt's really very easy to decide what to paint, I paint what I love. When a scene or an object pulls on my attention, then I have my next subject. I always carry a camera with me to capture it. One of my favorite subjects is a light object surrounded by darkness or golden sunset light bestowed on the distant landscape. It does mean that I spend a lot of time outside and really look at what I see. When one considers the beauty of our state, from the northern mountains to the southern topography, there is never a shortage of painting subjects. Can you believe what a variety of vistas we have here all within one state? I am not from Utah, I live here for its beauty and I never tire of it.â€
Are your backpacking adventures still your inspiration?
â€œBackpacking is what got me yearning to capture the beauty of the hidden places we see. I wanted to see and experience it more deeply. I felt sucked in. Painting makes me appreciate it even more; it feels as though it becomes a part of me. There is always a new vista around every corner, and I'm going slowly enough to appreciate it. We don't live life at this slow pace very often. It is a time of undistracted appreciation, what a gift! â€œ
What is it about the landscapes and flora and fauna of Utah that inspire you?
â€œI am prejudiced in thinking that the natural world is more beautiful than man's best efforts. As our civilizations swallow up nature, leaving less and less, I feel as though we need to doubly appreciate what we have left. Sort of how we all feel nostalgic about old barns is the way I feel about nature. I hope we will all cherish what we have left.â€
What are some of the struggles you have overcome as an artist?
â€œMy art lies captive to my fears. I struggle constantly to combat fear of failure, fear of struggling, fear of loss of control. I'm sure there are more fears that I don't even consciously recognize. That blank piece of paper sure can be daunting when you need to put down that first brush stroke. When is it finished, is it finished, will the next brush stroke ruin it? I have to say that I never feel as though I know what I'm doing, but my challenge is to keep painting in spite of that.â€
Are there any particular artists that you draw influence from?
â€œReally, there isn't an artist that has influenced me strongly, but there is always some artist whose work totally captivates me. I look at a lot of art of all media, it's all beautiful and in a general sort of way, I'm always inspired to paint whenever I am around art of any kind. Art seems to promote art.â€
In conclusion, Bessann says, â€œPainting is similar to raising teenagers. Like teenagers, paintings have a mind of their own, and when they start acting ugly like teenagers do, I think that I'm a terrible artist or mother. When they act beautiful, I wonder where they came from. Paintings are as unpredictable as teenagers.â€
To see more of Bessann Swanson's paintings, check out her solo show â€œSummer in the Wasatchâ€ at Red Butte Garden Floral and Art Exhibit, University of Utah, 300 Wakara Way, SLC.
The meet the artist reception will be July 23, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Her show will run July 22 to Aug. 14.