Today I’m pleased to introduce artist Christy Schwathe from New Mexico. Her work and story inspires me, and I hope it will inspire you as well!
Can you tell me a little about your background and interests? What’s life like in New Mexico?
I grew up living on the second story of an old house, in a small town in Colorado, where my parents ran a restaurant on the first floor surrounded by vegetable and flower gardens. It was an interesting and busy childhood with days filled with different people and projects and nights falling asleep with the muffled sounds of silverware clattering and delicious smells drifting upstairs. Besides being influenced by the hard work and creativity of my parents, I surrounded myself with artists, both in my family and the community. I figured out early that the restaurant business was way too much work and making art sounded way more fun. Eventually, I ended up earning my degree in art at UNM in Albuquerque, NM, falling in love with printmaking and focusing on that as well as drawing. In the years since school, I’ve worn many hats, all of them creative. I’ve spent time working in art supply stores, printing clothing and t shirts, managing a small open press and for a while I had a small business sewing bags and accessories out of recycled materials before coming back to making my art full time.
When I found my way to New Mexico, it instantly just felt like home, and I’ve been in the state ever since. New Mexico is a unique place, perhaps a bit rough around the edges but filled with the traditions and histories of many different cultures that make this financially poor place feel so rich in other aspects. There is an inherent creativity here, mostly brought about by necessity, that seems to magically turn everyone into an artist of some sort. Beyond the cultural richness, the creativity, the sunshine and the natural beauty of the place the thing that always made it feel like home to me is how friendly people are here. New Mexico is the kind of place where strangers will not only say hello to you, but will end up sharing their life story with you while you pass the time waiting in line somewhere. Having gotten so used to this friendly, laid-back style, I’m not sure if I could ever get used to being anywhere else.
For the time being, I am living in the tiny village of Costilla, north of Taos with my partner, Bradley Sleep, also an artist and a silversmith, and a handful of cats. Here, you are more likely to hear Spanish being spoken than English and humans are far outnumbered by the elk, coyote and rattlesnakes, inhabited homes outnumbered by long abandoned, adobe structures slowly melting back into the earth. It is a bit lonely and harsh around here, despite being beautiful, which I find alternately frustrating and inspiring. When I’m not working in my little studio, I stay busy with my other obsessions, sewing, knitting, small scale farming, and cooking (oh how I miss the convenience of take out). And when we find rare moments of time to do something else, Bradley and I head out into the valley to explore and do a bit of rock hounding or up into the mountains for some hiking or camping.
Many of your pieces combine the female figure or portrait with elements from nature, or are devoid of any context and are simply a portrait. What kind of inspiration do you draw on when creating these?
I’ve always been drawn to the human form as a means of communicating emotion and I tend to gravitate towards female subjects simply because, being female myself, I relate more strongly to them. The inspiration for my subject matter comes directly from my own life, living in a solitary space and surrounded by almost nothing but nature. I think the solitary nature of many of my pieces also speaks to what I see as a trend of people feeling more alone and isolated in our current society. It seems to me that most of us suffer from feeling disconnected, from each other and from nature, and so my own personal experience relates more abstractly to humanity as a whole. I also draw on the sense of strength and independence I see in the people of this area, where people dig their heels in, work hard against the elements and adversity and emerge even stronger on the other side.
What’s the process like of creating one of your mixed media works? How did you develop such a unique style?
My mixed media pieces seem to surface from the refuse of my life. I have an annoying habit of not wanting to throw anything away and tend to keep and collect little scraps of paper, fabric, xeroxed copies of found things, old books, words and sentences cut from magazines, anything that interests me visually, conceptually or texturally. Seeking inspiration, I’ll start dumping all these bits and pieces out, fumbling through them until I find something I feel I have to use and starting with piecing together a background of sorts. Often, I am wondering what would this or that look like mixed with this or that and maybe with this on top, so I try it and see where it goes. For example, with my ransom poem paintings, I start with a background, then work on painting an image (typically a figure or portrait) on top and end with piecing together the poem, seeking words and phrases that reinforce the emotion I’m hoping to convey while at the same time keeping it all somewhat cryptic, I never want it to lose all sense of mystery.
My style tends to shift around a bit as I grow and learn as an artist, and I quickly get bored with doing the same thing over and over. I think my style stays unique through it all because that’s just the way it comes out, that’s just the way my hands and my eyes and my brain communicate with one another. There are an infinite number of things to draw and paint and an infinite number of ways to draw or paint them, but no matter how I approach a piece and expect it to turn out it always seems to come out looking like something I made, even when my original intentions are quite different than the finished art.
How has business been on Etsy so far? Do you have any goals for the business or any upcoming projects that you’re working on?
Sales through my Etsy store seem to come in waves, I’ll have good months and bad months and it provides a supplemental income for me that adds to my sales through my local gallery in Taos, Taos Artisan’s Gallery, and direct sales of my art. Being able to have an online store through Etsy has really allowed me to reach out, from my little isolated chunk of the planet, to the rest of the world and share and sell my art to people who never would have seen it otherwise, so priceless for those of us living in rural areas.
The latest addition to my little business was the purchase of a really nice printer and a fancy schmancy camera which, after learning how to use both of them, have allowed me to make high quality, archival prints from my originals. These days, I’ve been working on a lot of time consuming, original oil paintings that I sell through my gallery. I love investing so much in each piece, but I realize that it often puts them in a price range that is unattainable for many people. The fact that I can now make prints to order at affordable prices makes me feel like more people can get their hands on my art and I’ve been working on adding more and more prints to my store.
My long and short term goals are pretty simple and pretty much the same… every single day I get to keep working on my art is a small success!
Make sure to like Christy’s Facebook page and check her out on Etsy!