“Art and craft is really a whole series of problems to be dealt with and resolved,” says Carl Swanson. Working full time as a sculptor in his Warwickshire studio, he exhibits as an Academician at the RWA Gallery in Bristol, is a Member of the RBSA and a Professional Member of the Artists Blacksmiths Association.
A DAY IN YOUR LIFE
Tell us about what you do
I am a sculptor, but equally I am an artist-craftsman in metal, wood and ceramics.
What is your typical day?
I get up early in the morning and get started in the studio at about 9.30, working from Monday to Friday.
How did you choose your current theme, if you have one?
Carl Swanson, Pentagonal Splash, bronze
Organic growth has always been one of many themes in my sculpture. I am fascinated with fungi. Decay is interesting - parasites that grow off things and decaying wood - how something appears and then is gone, the form and shape that it takes. I am always collecting organic things – little bones, pebbles and so on - anything with a pleasing shape or structure.
Carl Swanson, Strike whilst the Iron is Hot, steel, brass and wood
I also enjoy humour in art - I love a piece of sculpture that makes me laugh.
What are you working on at the moment?
My big project is reorganising my main studio – it is a mess! I am working on some small projects, making jewellery by silver smithing. Jewellery is really miniature sculpture.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
Carl Swanson, Autumn, forged steel and oak
Problem solving. Art and craft is really a whole series of problems to be dealt with and resolved. I keep my ideas open, looking from different angles, and finding a ways around things to work to a theme. Being a perfectionist, especially with the finish, I am never satisfied!
What skills are essential to you?
Translating a commission brief to a satisfactory conclusion and being fluent and confident with the various media.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Seeing my ideas, drawings, cardboard mock-ups and maquettes all being fulfilled in the finished work.
Carl Swanson in Luxemberg
When did you first get interested in sculpture?
My inspiration comes from my childhood when I spent time at my uncle’s farm in Leicestershire. Since then nature has inspired me in all its forms – alive or dead. My uncle also had a huge workshop with a lot of tools and machinery. My father was another influence, he made me appreciate military architecture and weaponry, which have very interesting structures and mechanisms. Finely made pieces of metalwork demand extreme skill by the maker.
What were your best subjects at school? What and where did you study?
Carl Swanson, Life from Decay, oak and copper
Art and craft in the broadest sense and I also enjoyed history and literature. I went to Leicester Polytechnic and started with a course in woodwork. I took an unconventional route through education - as I worked in one material it would open up my interest in the exploring other materials or techiques, so I moved on taking courses in different materials that inspired me. Then I went to Loughborough College of Art to study ceramics further and teacher training, then I taught ceramics.
Did you teach sculpture?
I taught sculpture, metalwork, woodwork and ceramics.
Carl Swanson, Banner, slate
I also worked at the Douglas Bader Centre teaching students with physical and sensory disabilities, taking them through the process of investigation and problem-solving, finding various ways to work around difficulties, ending with the pleasure of achieving a finished piece. I found it particularly rewarding to work there.
What’s the proudest moment of your artistic career so far?
One of my proudest moments was being awarded the LSA George Pickard Prize for the first time. George was a dear friend and he is much missed for his inspiration.
I also feel proud when I see a student I have taught excel.
What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?
View from Carl Swanson's studio window
The challenge of allocating time to create the sculpture! The solution is usually an extended working day. Moving house and studio and starting afresh with both has also been a challenge.
Carl Swanson, Egyptian Head, Portland Stone
How did you get to where you are now?
Through a continuing love of three dimensional work and love of the materials. Alec White was both my teacher and my mentor in ceramics and sculpture; he was always calm and whatever it was that he looked at, he could always see something in it.
Only minor ones
What advice would give your 22-year-old-self?
Get on with it! Ignore advice and go for it!
EITHER/OR . . .
Carl Swanson, Sentinel 2, applewood
Coffee or tea?
Tea! A brew means taking a break and time to relax, and put things into perspective.
Michelangelo or Picasso?
A difficult one! It has to be Michelangelo – figurative or not, for me as a sculptor.
Mac or PC?
Morning or night?
Morning – there is a chance to achieve something in the day.
FAVOURITES . . .
Carl Swanson, Forbidden Fruit, bronze and brass
The Modern Blacksmith by Alexander G Weygers is a very modern approach to a traditional craft.
Walter Ritchie, Sculpture in Brick and other Materials. Walter was a family friend, uncompromising in his execution of sculpture.
This is not a band, but an individual- the percussionist, Evelyn Glennie.
Handel’s Messiah – perhaps because I have sung in it.
Carl Swanson, Sentinel 3, bronze and brass
Favourite three artists
Things to do on a Friday night
Relax with a glass of wine and a good meal.
Where my wife tells me we are going! Favourite places in the UK are the Cotswolds, the New Forest, Norfolk and Scotland.
Carl Swanson, Lightning, ceramic, pewter and lapis lazuli
Piece of advice you’ve been given
A favourite saying from my mother: Sculptors are strong in the arm, but somewhat weak in the head!
Left to right: Carl Swanson, Sentinel 4, brass; Projectile, bronze & aluminium; Triangulated Armour, bronze & brass
Read more about Carl Swanson
David Clark 15 April 2016
I have no means of communicating with you (my phone did not retain your number), and I suspect you're still having problems with your computer (no?), as I've not heard from you in response to my email. So I thought 'I wonder if he has a website' - and he has! And a very good one too. When we met, I desperately tried to recall whether I had seen your work at the LSA exhibition, but failed. So It's good to have seen some of your creations on your website. Original work, and I understand now why you asked me whether I'd thought of incorporating metal(s) in my work. I'll go on considering it, but the techniques may elude me. I've worked in stone, but it's hard on the wrists and stiffens them up for piano playing. I particularly like your 'Sentinel' and 'Forbidden fruit'. The latter reminds me of those fly-eating plants! Good wishes, David
Lesley Brooks 15 October 2015
Thank you Carl for telling your story, which I found both interesting and inspiring.