A couple of years ago, artists Ian Swanson and Cedric Tai seemed to be everywhere in Detroit. Everywhere you turned, they were involved with a great local art project. They had their own gigs, teamed up on joint projects, and both were heavily involved with thedetroiter.com, which is an art-focused Detroit-centric website ‘serving a creative community.’ Their collective energy was great for Detroit because they are both locally bred, talented artists.
Then, about a year ago, they were both gone. Cedric moved to Glasgow, Scotland to pursue his MFA and Ian went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NYC to do the same. Both being the deep thinkers that they are this was a logical move to allowing to explore their artistic voices, but nonetheless- their presence has since left a void.
Fortunately the distance has not made Michigan a distant memory for either of these artists. Detroit’s own Re:View Contemporary Gallery represents both of them. Ian has his first solo show with Re:View gallery opening next month. PLAYGROUND DETROIT’s Colin Darke checked in with him to see what he has been up to in Brooklyn and get his thoughts on the two cities.
Colin Darke for PD: What is your background?
Ian Swanson: My desktop background or my personal background? Currently, my very cluttered desktop background is a picture of a ’97 Dodge Neon. Concerning me though… I was born in Detroit, I am 29 years old. I grew up in the thrifting mecca east of the city near St. Clair Shores/Roseville, and moved to the city around the time I was attending Wayne State University. I’ve been showing around Detroit since about ’06, and from ’09-11 was co-running a project space called ORG at the Russell Industrial Center and had a studio in the old North End building. I’ve also been making some type of music with various creeps around the city since I was a teenager. Now I’m hanging out in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn mostly.
What has taken you to New York from Detroit?
I’m attending Grad school at Pratt- and a necessary change of scenery.
How has the transition been? How is Pratt treating you?
t’s been awesome- I’m really loving Brooklyn. Detroit, you’re great, but I’m seeing someone else. [Pratt] is full of amazing artists and people from all over the world, I’ve met so many new friends and colleagues as a result of the Pratt community, and NYC in general. Oh, and there’s lots of cats… It’s very energizing.
What can Detroit’s art scene learn, if anything, from New York’s (and vice versa)?
Detroit could probably learn to lighten up a little. New York could probably learn that it isn’t necessarily the sun around which all artists revolve.[Ouch!]
What are the biggest challenges and benefits from practicing in NYC?
The biggest benefit is the proximity to a core of very forward-thinking and ambitious artists, galleries, and museums- and that the art economy here can stand to support some of them, although that’s not the standard. W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy), the OWS arts, and other labor groups are trying to address some of those issues though.
The biggest difficulty is probably just the cost of living here in NYC- it’s stupid, coffee and ice should not be $3.99… Jus’ sayin’.”
What is your creative process like for your performance art and painting?
I spend most of my free time in the studio. I spend a lot of time pacing or sitting in chairs and looking at things. I also spend a lot of time on the Internet. I don’t draw or plan paintings, but sometimes I test elements in Photoshop during the process. Sculptures and performances happen a bit more organically, and are usually a result of ideas I’ve been working out for a longer time. Making the paintings helps with that.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on some new paintings, sculptures, and digital work. I’ve also been mobile scanning a lot of things and making downtempo chiptune. I have been spending a lot of time with my friend, Johnny Tragedy in Peekskill [upstate New York] working out ideas for the Peekskill Project V. It’s a huge citywide project put together by the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art that opens in late September. I’m working in a rad 100+ year old factory up there across the river from this ominous nuclear power plant on Indian Point.”
What do you think makes a successful artist or piece of art?
What kind of success? If we’re talking financial, I guess I would say sustainability and a self-funding practice. Artistic success is harder to define- there are so many “problems.” I just try to push my own ideas and hope for some sense of accomplishment.
What’s next for you?
Next, I return to Detroit for my solo show at Re:View which opens September 8th. There is also a dope group show I’m in called “Aggro Crag,” at BOSI Contemporary in NYC opening September 5th. I’m showing with some really awesome painters at BOSI and am stoked to unveil new work at Detroit at Re:View. Then, there is the Peekskill Project…that whole writing a thesis thing, and somehow breaking this curse of floods that has been following me around lately.
Solo show Opening Reception:
Saturday, September 8
444 W. Willis, #112, Detroit, MI 48201
7 pm – 10 pm
[With performance by Ritual Howls]
WANT MORE FROM IAN SWANSON?
Check out this interview from ARTWIT.COM
See more of his work below:
Colin Darke is a recent addition to the PLAYGROUND DETROIT team, who will be focusing on bringing more artists into ‘the PD spotlight.’ Colin writes for the influential Brooklyn-based art blog, Hyperallergic and The Huffington Post. He has also written for the Art:21 Blog, part of the Peabody Award winning PBS: Art in the 21st Century project. Colin is also the Editor-in-Chief of the cultural webzines TheDetroiter.com and