It's hard to nail down what DIY looks and sounds like, but it's clear when it's there. Michael Swaney's work communicates this ethic in impeccable detail, with each painting and mosaic bringing along what art often loses on its way up the proverbial totem pole, the childlike openness, personality, confusion, and messiness that humans inherently have when they engage in creating. For Swaney, those details are the ones that make the process worthwhile, and he draws inspiration from those who create in a search for, or discovery of their own meaning. In addition to making his own artwork, he actively encourages others from all walks of life to do the same, for the simple goal of expressing their humanness and in the meantime validating that humanness. 

These are the values that push art forward and bring folks inward, so in the spirit of what our Juxtapoz founders believed, we needed to get a glimpse of what the Canadian-born, Barcelona-based artist is up to these days, and ask him some questions about his journey thus far.

Eben Benson: So, you’re from Vancouver but now live in Barcelona. How long have you lived there and tell us about your process of making such a large geographical jump?
Michael Swaney: I'm actually from a small town near Vancouver called Gibsons. The TV series The Beachcombers was filmed there. You have to take a ferry from Vancouver to get there, though it's still on the mainland. I've been in Barcelona for 12 years. It was a negative time for me back then and I needed a change, so I planned a trip through Southeast Asia with New Zealand as my final destination. I had a 6-month layover to go somewhere and intuitively chose Barcelona without knowing much about it.

What’s one of your most common thoughts while painting? Is there one thing you feel constantly floating around?
Not so much, I listen to music lyrics a lot and sometimes get into nostalgic thoughts but there's not a common pattern of thinking. A bit of everything, and a bit of nothing.

When did you start making art? What other hobbies did you have growing up?
I've been drawing since I was really young and can't remember ever taking a pause. Aside from all the typical 80s kids' toys, I was really big into amphibians, reptiles, dinosaurs and any sort of marine life. I was into drawing all that stuff and had an ongoing drawing project with my Gramma around the age of 5. We would draw all those creatures on the backs of cereal boxes and cut them out, then lay them all over the living room floor and call it "The Sea".

IMG 5722 ModifierPortrait by Landry A

You work with children somewhat often, can you tell us about the program that work is through and how you got involved?
The mosaic projects I've been doing are the result of me making proposals in different places, and so far they've all been non-profit projects. For the first one in San Martin del Rio, Spain, I asked the locals to take part via an open call poster which also suggested that they bring along their broken heirlooms, ceramics, plates or whatever else they wanted to become part of the mural. Kids were involved in that one too but the range in age was from 5-89 years old. The second one was for a residency in Muro, Mallorca where I did a mosaic on a wall next to a primary school. The school had summer classes on during that week so there were a lot of kids around who were able to participate. Around 400 kids helped put tiles on the wall. The third mosaic was in my hometown, Gibsons, with the participation of family, friends and some local kids and parents who popped by.

I've always been into encouraging people with no artistic background to make things so this goes hand in hand with collaborating on this level with people. When I ask them to bring their own personal belongings to the wall, they become somewhat more invested in taking part. It's the most satisfying work I've done in years.  

Who were some of your earlier artistic inspirations and how have they changed over time?
I used to love Klimt, Schiele, Rauschenberg, Basquiat, Klee, and Hundertwasser. Non-academic arts and creation made by people who don't have training and could care less about an audience is my main passion outside of making art. My Mum is the one who really taught me how to draw. She's always been into making art and crafts, and as early as I can remember she would attend craft fairs with weird little sewn inventions she'd make. Sewn fabric bums in a jar made out of stockings(!). My Dad taught me how to make scenery props for his model railroad. Pine trees and shrubs, and how to paint sky and mountain backdrops. He's been an HO scale model train enthusiast since the 70's I believe.

IMG 9544

Do you think your work is particularly reactive to your training in graphic design?
Maybe more so to my drafting training in high school. I got into the design aspect through drafting. I still love to use tangents, rulers, and layout lines in my work. Studying design was only a necessary step (I suppose) that made me realize how much I absolutely didn't want to do that.

Do you have any collections? Like knick-knacks, toy trains, or something like that? Do you collect fine art at all?
A few. I collect cagatios, caganers, outsider, kids and found art. The fine art I collect is usually from trades with peers. Getting a pretty solid collection now.

What was the last film or TV show you watched that had an effect on you?
I'm really enjoying the Norm Macdonald talk show series right now. I think everything that Tim and Eric, and Dr. Steve Brule with John C. Reilly did was genius and is still so refreshing.

michael swaney L21 40

What’s coming up on the horizon for you?
Currently, I have my biggest solo exhibition to date on view at L21 Gallery in Palma, Mallorca and a group show running now at CCS Detroit called Blobjects. Another group show opens in January at Part 2 Gallery, Oakland and I will be having a solo show in NYC at Johannes Vogt in November. Plus tomorrow I will bake some cookies.