Heather Allen-Swarttouw’s art is about a journey.
In her first 20 years as an artist, she created bright and colorful architectural textiles. Her muse was the staircase, where she created space and movement by coloring dye and texturing fabric. Ten years ago she shifted into monochromatic blues, blacks and whites. It was part of growing up, she said.
“Work is an echo of my life,” she said. “I just don’t get an idea and change. It’s a slow evolution.”
Last year she changed format from two-dimensional textiles to three dimensions of mixed media in clay, gut, wire and collage. Her new muse: the boat as vessel.
Like the staircase, the vessel represents a structural form of travel, a move from one space to another. “A boat is ungrounded and still on a journey, but it’s not the same journey as a staircase,” she said. “There’s a realization of not having control.”
In high school she was selected to study with her school’s artist-in-residence, and worked in sculpture. As an undergrad at the University of New Hampshire, she studied sculpture and painting, but in graduate school at the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth, she made the shift to textiles.
Now, working with sculpture in mixed media reconnects her with the beginning of her journey. “There was something I couldn’t express in textiles,” she said. “But now the visual mixed media fits the way my mind works.”
As artist, writer and teacher, she said she finds keeping a journal to be her most useful tool. It’s a process that helped while she worked for two years on a textile replication for Biltmore Estate, to be hung in 2011. “I use my journal as a mini-studio,” she said. “No matter where I am at the time, the journal is a creative lifeline.”
Until October 22nd a solo exhibition of her vessels can be viewed at Black Mountain Center for the Arts in Black Mountain, N.C.
For more on Heather’s work, go to http://heatherallenswarttouw.com
– Cheryl Wilder