Q&A with Lynda Harwood-Swenson

A conversation between Lynda Harwood-Swenson and Krista Schoening on the topic of
Harwood-Swenson’s current show, Color, Light, and Space.

KS: You made this work during a residency in California while forest fires were raging in
the area. What was that experience like? How would you describe the light and the
atmosphere to someone who hadn’t experienced the smoke of a forest fire? Did you
have a chance to get out into the landscape or did the smoke keep you indoors?

LHS: As I drove down through southern Oregon, the evening sky was glowing orange. It was
eerie to feel like I was driving into it, instead of away from it. The whole west coast was
burning, so I imagine a lot of people experienced this. For me the hardest part was the
heat—coming from Seattle I was not used to it, and the day I arrived it was over 100. We
had air filters in our houses and brought them with us into the studios. After the first few
days I did start to walk and go on short hikes, but because of covid I didn’t explore the area
too much.

KS: This work was made in a difficult and potentially frightening time—due to both the
fires and the coronavirus posing existential threats—yet your work feels measured
and almost meditative. Some of these prints in particular remind me of stones set
into a Japanese gravel garden. Is there any relationship between the stressful time
in which these works were generated and the serenity of the work? 

LHS: Good question, I would say yes—the work is restrained—I wanted to portray
complexity through minimalism, and let the negative space create tension. I had a
lot of ideas about how to portray my experience of the landscape, and I felt like this
allowed me to combine some of these ideas. The shapes are jewel toned, almost
candy colored and verging on the surreal. They are actually hopeful works, the
landscape became a metaphor for ideas of community, hence the titles “lunch” and
other times of day that people gather.

KS: You write in your artist’s statement that the layering of the hills and the translucency
of the fire haze were an important source of inspiration for these works. Did that
haze, or something else about the atmosphere of that time, inspire the palette you
used here?

LHS: I’m not entirely sure why I choose this palate. I can’t say that it was the landscape,
but there was something about the light and the haze that must have inspired it. I like
to work with transparent colors and build layers to create complexity. Each color I
used is a blended roll of two or more colors and tones to help create a sense of dimension. Using the candy colors also gives the works a sense of positivity.

Manifesting Happiness, acrylic on raw canvas 52″x36″

KS: The acrylic-on-raw-canvas work Manifesting Happiness has a slightly anarchic
quality, with the colors of the paint bleeding and flowing one into the next. The
medium itself suggests a lack of control. On the other hand, there is a sense of careful control in
the prints here, with their clean edges and a careful craftsmanship. How do you see the
difference between these works, particularly as related to their media? 

LHS: Manifesting Happiness relates to the Petaluma work only through color and some
rounded forms from the paint pours, and is really a different project. I have a deep
love for the abstract expressionists and especially for women artists like Helen
Frankenthaler. I was teaching some elementary level workshops on her and Anne
Truitt’s work and I was so happy to be working in that way, pouring the paint and
responding to it as the paintings unfolded. For me, Manifesting Happiness was an
exploratory process, where the Petaluma Landscapes were a very specific idea that
I wanted to make through a specific printmaking medium.

KS: The works Something’s Falling Apart 1 and 2 both have collage elements with
graphite marks on them—perhaps traces of previous projects. Why did you choose
these pieces for inclusion in these pieces? Are those traces fulfilling a mostly formal
function in this work, or do they point obliquely to something outside of the work

LHS: The collage pieces were part of the registration notes and corrections I was making
as I used a Vandercook letterpress to make these pieces. On the etching press,
registration of paper and plate is pretty simple. But using the letterpress was really
tricky for me, the registration is completely different. As I was sweating through it, I
started to see the trace paper and the graphite lines (used to help fix registration) as
part of the composition. I decided to add them to the prints by using a drymount
press. No.s 1 and 2 are part of a series of 5 prints that have a matrix but are made
unique by the collage additions.