by Danielle Vigueria
Two Utah-based Artists Tap Into the Positive
Art is transformative. It can push both creator and viewer to expand their perspectives and open themselves to new possibilities. After the past two years of isolation and fear—social injustice, political unrest, violence, and a global pandemic—the world needs to make room for renewal.
Utah-based artists Samantha daSilva and Susan Swartz use their art to remind us to look for the good and meet uncertainty with courage. In the following pages, the artists share their latest works and tell us how life events have influenced them to make bolder choices in their art. Drawing inspiration from nature, both have incorporated unconventional materials into their latest series, highlighting the beauty that can be found around us every day, if we just take the time to notice.
Living with Inspiration:From major exhibitions to intimate home spaces
“When I paint for myself, I paint for my health. When I paint for the health of the Earth, I paint for everything that I stand for. And finally, when I create by staying true to my values and my voice, there is nothing but joy to be found in the process.”
Susan Swartz paints for joy. After battling two chronic environmentally-linked illnesses, Susan is often asked why she doesn’t create work around themes of nature’s fragility or its demise. But dwelling in the negative is not where she finds inspiration. She leans toward the light rather than the darkness. Susan wants to see the silver lining in hard times and the goodness that can come from difficulties. She finds the beauty in life and passes it along in her work.
“When I paint for myself, I paint for my health,” says Susan. “When I paint for the health of the Earth, I paint for everything that I stand for. And finally, when I create by staying true to my values and my voice, there is nothing but joy to be found in the process.”
During her recovery, Susan not only made major changes to her lifestyle, but her art changed dramatically as well. She found herself moving away from realism and toward more emotional, abstract works. She tapped into a new way of thinking and unleashed a fierceness in her experimental process. Inspired by a deepened reverence for the healing power of nature and its gifts, she began creating bolder, more sculptural paintings, using her art to call attention to the beauty and fragility of the Earth.
Previously known for her realistic landscape paintings, Susan recently marked the 20th anniversary of the 2002 Olympic Games, where she was the official environmental artist. That milestone, which occurred just prior to her diagnoses, also serves as the starting point of the evolution of her work into what it is today.
Especially relevant after the recent global pandemic, Susan’s current artwork sends a message of renewal and healing. A much-needed perspective, the positivity and joy that her paintings evoke inhabit any area—private or public—where her work is displayed. Many individual collectors believe that those feelings translate exceptionally well into their homes. The richness in color and texture of her paintings enhances and influences the auras of their spaces. With elegant and organic composition, the art connects with the viewers and often calls up emotional responses. Bringing a vibrancy and energy, her work allows collectors to find a greater understanding and appreciation of the natural world around them as they live alongside her paintings.
Susan is keenly aware of the effect she wishes her art to have while she is creating it. She chooses to paint in a small studio within her house because she believes in harnessing the love that fills a home and infusing it into her work. Oftentimes, she will even take a piece she is working on into different areas of her home to see how it could reside in someone else’s space. Exercises like this help her further understand the people who want to coexist with her art forever.
“I have always been interested in the alchemy that exists between nature and art. With COVID, the importance of a strong immune system is critical. As I was working to build my own immune system, the thought came to me that I should include these elements in my paintings so the world could reflect on the importance of our natural foods.”
In Susan’s latest series, Evolution of Nature, she built up surfaces with more three-dimensional applications of paint and has integrated the natural elements that she used to heal her body. Starting with herbs, grasses, and seeds and moving to fruits and vegetables, all of the different components that are incorporated into her work are also the same things Susan continues to ingest to stay healthy. The paintings exude energy and movement directly connected to the medicinal power of food and Susan’s personal story of recovery.
“I have always been interested in the alchemy that exists between nature and art,” says Susan. “With COVID, the importance of a strong immune system is critical. As I was working to build my own immune system, the thought came to me that I should include these elements in my paintings so the world could reflect on the importance of our natural foods.”
Susan debuted her new series at a solo exhibition entitled, Three Dimensions, at Galerie Noack in Berlin, Germany, in the fall of 2021. Galerie Noack is located in one of the oldest bronze factories in the area and produced large-scale sculptures for artists such as Henry Moore and Bernar Venet. With its history, the space provided a well-matched setting for Susan’s latest works as they go beyond the edges of the canvas, protruding from the surface and evoking a sculptural sense.
Supporters far and wide traveled to celebrate this pivotal direction in Susan’s painting career. In his opening speech, Jürgen Großmann, Entrepreneur and Chairman of the Foundation for Art & Culture, Bonn, referenced Susan’s intentional choice to live in a place like Park City, surrounding herself with a tranquil abundance of inspiration. In describing how Susan’s work brings the outside indoors, Grossman states that the paintings have “greatly expanded my own awareness…to experience first-hand the inner connection between the artist and nature.”
In addition to her artwork, Susan pursues her passion for the planet and its people as a founder of the documentary film organization, Impact Partners, which has produced award-winning work that focuses on social justice and environmental issues. She sits on the advisory board of the National Museum of Women in the Arts and is also the co-founder of The Christian Center of Park City, which provides basic needs and a food pantry service to the local community.
“The thing that I have always admired about Susan Swartz,” says Aimee Odum, Susan Swartz Gallery Manager,” is that she is not only a painter but an advocate and activist. She inspires people to think about their relationship with nature, and she uses the sales of her work to support organizations that promote causes she believes in. The passion that fuels Susan is contagious.”
A Park City resident for more than three decades, Susan welcomes visitors to experience her work in her gallery on Main Street. Currently, many of her original pieces are on display, including Evolution of Nature 25, from her latest series. The painting was inspired by her experiences at her Berlin exhibition and is her largest piece to date, measuring 6 by 10 feet.
Susan’s work is featured in museums, U.S. embassies, and private and public collections around the world. Whether in personal collections or internationally renowned galleries, Susan’s art reminds us that we are all connected, and we are all responsible for the well-being of our planet.
“She inspires people to think about their relationship with nature…The passion that fuels Susan is contagious.”
–Aimee Odum, Manager, Susan Swartz Gallery
“This phase of my artistry is coming into myself and being less afraid and curated in what I share with the world.”
“This phase of my artistry is coming into myself and being less afraid and curated in what I share with the world,” says Samantha daSilva. The Salt Lake City-based artist has been exploring themes of self and belonging in her art for many years. But after embarking on a personal journey to become fearless, she now finds herself focusing on what it means to truly live in that fearless space.
Being free when creating alone, behind closed doors, is one thing, but being authentic and transparent at all times—that’s living fearlessly. And that is exactly what Samantha has been pushing herself to do. Many of us keep a close guard on our public persona, trying to present a perfect image on social media, doing our best to keep up appearances. But the people we are when no one is watching—that’s where the magic lives and that is who Samantha has been striving to show to the world through her work.
“My workshops are called Fearless,” says Samantha. “And I realized that I have to walk the talk. In the past, I have been afraid to show the students in my classes how I really paint. It’s one thing to lead a class or workshop and do a demo, but it’s such a carefully planned experience. I decided I needed to allow my class to experience watching someone paint ‘in the flow.’” So, in the spirit of “practice what you preach,” during a recent workshop, Samantha turned up the Electronic Dance Music, turned off the lights, and “went for it.” The response was a collective shared moment of vulnerability and creativity. Jaws dropped and tears were shed, and a new level of connection was reached.
“It was amazing,” says Samantha. “Showing that class how I really paint, how I put it all together. If I can go there, in front of a classroom of people, maybe it will give those watching the permission and inspiration to let go themselves. It was such a powerful and freeing learning experience.”
Freeing experiences have been shaping Samantha’s work for some time. Having immigrated to two different countries and made many moves in between, she has never been an artist to keep a studio full of supplies like catalogs of paint in every color and brushes of all sizes. And she is intrigued by the idea of using her body as an instrument with which to create. Rather than artist, brush, and canvas, Samantha views herself as a tool, painting with her hands and body as she chooses.
This minimalist approach lends itself well to painting on-location and that is how Samantha says she has executed some of her most fulfilling work. “I think it started out of necessity really,” she explains. “The practicality of painting wherever I am is imperative to me as an artist. I just can’t pack a lot of supplies around with me. The things that I have are the things that I use. That’s it. Painting on location gives me the opportunity to be 100% present, and it feels really good. It’s not something that I get to do often because I’m usually stuck in my head thinking about the future. Painting outside, in these amazing places, gives me the chance to just be in the moment.”
Samantha has painted in Antelope Island State Park, East Canyon Reservoir, Utah Lake State Park, and the other-worldly landscape of the Bonneville Salt Flats, where the sky and land melt together. She even led a group retreat in Costa Rica where she encouraged the attendees to take to the ocean wrapped in their canvases.
These immersive experiences marry well with her signature style of incorporating elements of the environment into her paintings. Creating with Utah red dirt and salt from the Great Salt Lake while standing in that natural environment brings an extra level of depth to her work. She not only mentally absorbs her surroundings, but physically uses pieces of the landscape in her art as well.
“The practicality of painting wherever I am is imperative to me as an artist. I just can’t pack a lot of supplies around with me. The things that I have are the things that I use. That’s it. Painting on location gives me the opportunity to be 100% present, and it feels really good.”
Known for this use of unconventional materials, Samantha recently took a step further into fearless, when a close friend asked her to create a piece with the cremated remains of her late husband. “I just knew I had to do this for her,” says Samantha. “Even though it may seem unusual, it felt so on purpose and so in line with the spirit component I find in my work. It was very easy to feel connection and recognize that we are not alone. The project was completely aligned with love and honoring the divine, and it was incredible.”
Whether working with cremains or fabric or dirt, Samantha maintains a reputation for delivering modern, ethereal work no matter what the materials. She is currently planning two large commissioned paintings for the international architecture and design firm, Semple Brown, to be hung in the dining room of a new downtown restaurant. In addition to infusing Utah’s essence with local materials and high contrast colors, she will also include basketball jerseys in the work.
Samantha has completed several commissions for other local businesses including Intermountain HealthCare, Mountain America Credit Union, and Sorenson Capital. “Having the opportunity to share my work with these amazing brands that are changing the landscape of Salt Lake City is an honor,” says Samantha. “The area is growing at a breakneck pace and I am excited to align with organizations that are shaping the future of Salt Lake and have my work included in the city’s evolution.”
Samantha also connects with the local community through teaching. This year, she will host eight workshops including sessions at the University of Utah and the Kimball Art Center, and throughout the year she has several artist residencies planned in order to recharge her batteries. She has been chosen to spend three weeks working with indigenous people in Oaxaca, Mexico, learning how to make pigments out of natural elements such as cactus and insects. She will also return to her native country of Brazil for a residency, during which she plans to explore the themes of home and belonging.
“I made the decision to slow down on teaching this year because I want to be a teacher who inspires and always has more to give,” Samantha adds. “These artist residencies are done in the spirit of recharging and learning new things that I can pass along to my students. To fill my soul in order to be full for others. I’m excited at the opportunity to learn how to integrate more organic elements into my work, to reconnect with how artists of the past did things and then bring that knowledge back to share with others.”
Samantha’s work will be on view at three upcoming exhibitions in Salt Lake City, including a group exhibition on dream states at Finch Lane Gallery opening early summer 2022, and solo exhibitions at WOW Atelier (Summer 2022) and Alpine Art & Frame (October 2022).
“I use my work to get to know myself better. I think that any kind of art has the potential to be a tool for personal transformation, self-actualization, and growth.”
“I use my work to get to know myself better,” says Samantha. “I think that any kind of art has the potential to be a tool for personal transformation, self-actualization, and growth. There is so much to gain on the other side of fear. More life. More expansion. More coming into yourself. I know it may seem a bit cliché, but I truly believe in the saying, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ If we want to make the world better, we have to go there. We have to inspire others and together we create change. So, I am continuously working on being more vulnerable, and I can say that I am seeing the results and I just feel much more alive.”