Arts

Christy Schwathe: Explorations in portraiture and in the natural world

By Anna Racicot
Posted 10/25/18

It is no wonder that Christy Schwathe is a painter whose work merits spending some time contemplating, for it is her heritage. Her great-grandfather was a well-known sculptor in Austria. Schwathe, a …

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Arts

Christy Schwathe: Explorations in portraiture and in the natural world

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It is no wonder that Christy Schwathe is a painter whose work merits spending some time contemplating, for it is her heritage. Her great-grandfather was a well-known sculptor in Austria. Schwathe, a first generation American on her father's side, counts several artists on both sides of her family tree. Like her grandmother, Schwathe is by nature a portrait artist although she paints landscapes as well.

Schwathe's first set of quality brushes and paints came as a gift from her uncle when she was 10 years old. "I always wanted to be an artist," she said. "Portraits and figurative work, that's what I drew when I was a kid."

Through education and practice Schwathe branched out and expressed her creativity in other art forms, primarily fiber arts. At the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque Schwathe majored in printmaking and drawing. With her artistic heritage, it is no surprise that she has explored working in clay, photography, jewelry and embroidery. Her interest in fiber arts led her to run a business making handbags for a time.

Not surprisingly, Schwathe has combined two of these different mediums, oil painting and embroidery, to create work which impresses the viewer with the subtle intermingling of paint and fiber.

This summer the smoke from the 416 fire near Durango, Colorado billowed over Costilla and then surrounded the home she shares with her partner Brad. Since Schwathe gathers most of her inspiration from her environment and her emotional response to it, she began work on three smoke-inspired paintings. In one, it appears that rain clouds are building over the horizon, but these clouds also could be smoke clouds.

Schwathe is drawn to such contrasts and is always seeking, she said, a balance. "I like that it could be smoke or it could be rain." The painting highlights a dragonfly, Schwathe's hope for rain.

These three paintings, she points out, show her "working through the emotions" of the environmental difficulties of this summer.

Even when Schwathe is not painting portraits or figures, her oils always contain a human element, for she keeps her hand on the emotional pulse of life. Her landscapes, she points out, may contain a figure or even a chair.

Recent works include portraits of babies and young children, and they are "joyous and happy."

Schwathe's small studio is as intimate as her portraits. Two portraits her grandmother painted of Schwathe when she was a young child are hung high on a wall overlooking the easel. Schwathe's painting of her father sits nearby. If Schwathe's studio is crowded, it feels crowded with warmth, a perfect space in which to explore beauty in human forms and faces.

Schwathe also paints memorial portraits. When clients commission these portraits of loved ones, Schwathe comments, "It is cathartic for them and brings up memories they have forgotten. I really try to put love and respect into it even if I don't know the person. And I am interested in the relation between me and the person (who has commissioned the work) and the person who has gone."

These portraits often bring tears to the eyes of those who have commissioned them. When Schwathe's own father died, painting was the way she processed her grief.

The inspirations for her paintings are emotional, and she will often come up with one element she likes and go from there. Sometimes, though, she will dream of a painting, a "masterpiece," and then work to bring it into form. "I love the challenge of painting something I haven't painted before, of learning something new." She adds, "I often don't understand them (the paintings) for a couple of years."

Schwathe's sensitivity to people and to her environment are reflected, for example, in a painting with the demure eyes of a young woman looking down toward her feet or in the in-between quality of cloud and smoke in her recent series. Here is an artist, a viewer may surmise, who can take a photograph of a person in some particular natural setting and bring out the previously unnoticed nuances of feeling, the essence of portraiture.

Her work is available to view at christyschwathe.com, and she can be contacted on Facebook or Instagram at c.schwathe, or emailed at schwatheawrt@gmail.com.

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