Adherents to astrology would insist that earth signs, firmly rooted to the ground in solidity and logic, rule the physical world. However, Eleanor Swordy, who recently opened her solo show Earth Signs at Moskowitz Bayse in Los Angeles might have a wider interpretation. Accept that the Brooklyn based artist will stamp your hand and buckle you in for a careening ride of peaks, up close encounters and subterranean vistas.  

As the title of the show suggests, the works question whether the terra, indeed, is firma.  While we may feel rooted on solid ground, are the sands shifting? In an amalgam of everyday scenes and objects, from various angles and viewpoints, "The paintings are constructed to give the impression of spaces and contain symbols that are analogous to the world we occupy. The idea isn’t to represent alternative dimensions but rather refer to reality while simultaneously warping it and playing with where the focus is directed. The characters belong to the individual paintings and often function as a bridge between the viewer and the internal logic of any given image." Within a frame of flatness and abstraction, her amorphous subjects could be anyone, and that’s the point. In viewing her crowded universe, we’re unsure if there is a protagonist, or if we are along for the ride.  And while the work is evidently figure-based, her unique experimentation with perspective provides a dynamic narrative, "The ‘figures’ in the paintings are often not meant to be perceived as the primary subject of the work so nudging the horizon out of the composition directs focus back to the environment the figures occupy. I like utilizing this strategy to dispel emphasis on one particular part of the image, rather than hoping for every aspect of the painting to be taken as a whole." 

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Precisely rendered, the paintings are actually fashioned through a classic, painstaking manner  the artist relishes. "My painting style is often very tight so I rely on the drawing process, which happens at the outset of formulating the image and composition, to be as loose and spontaneous as possible," Swordy explains her love and appreciation for drawing as the core of her work. "For me, there is no substitute for the ease of sketching on paper and I often rely on making drawings of the paintings while they’re in progress to sort out what has to happen next." Aside from choosing color schemes, very little of her practice involves computers or technology. "In the past, I used to scrape entire surfaces down every day and repaint them to see how different colors may look but experimenting with colors digitally allows me to re-configure the palette of the paintings as a whole more easily."

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Rendered meticulously, the images are filled with exquisite painterly sections where thick, bold gestures balance soft tones, solid, bold colors and, often, exacting patterns. The mix of  grainy surfaces, silky gradients, and points of view, provide multiple moods and reactions, each contributing diverse layers of interpretation. "I like the idea of accompanying broad flat strokes with textures to control the speed at which they are viewed," she explains like a jazz impresario. "So for instance, the eye would move quickly across a flat area, then more slowly to pick up on details, then fast again, etc. In this manner, narratives are expressed through a circuitous visual arc." As she mimics the way we perceive our earthbound reality, she is able to recreate the visual input that feels familiar to the human eye. "What I enjoy the most about employing these techniques are seeing the images snap into focus. I don’t particularly prefer painting in one manner or another but having options is helpful to calibrate what I’m mentally and physically equipped to do on any given day.” Thanks to Swordy for doing the heavy lifting, as we enjoy the ride. —Sasha Bogojev

Photo credit by Adam Moskowitz