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Making Pictures for A Living
Guenevere Schwien vividly remembers the exact moment she decided to become an artist. “I was in second grade, and a watercolor artist came to our classroom to give a demo,” she recalls. “After he showed us a few techniques, I thought, This is what you do as a grown-up? You make pictures for a living? I was like, yeah! Sign me up!” That was it. Her passion for painting has never waned.
The artist considers herself fortunate to have had parents and teachers who supported her dreams all along the way. Growing up, she attended a number of different schools where art education was important, and she was encouraged to explore painting, ceramics, and other media as well. “I really loved sculpture, but I always had this romantic notion of becoming a painter,” she admits, so when it came time to go to college, she decided to study painting at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.
Guenevere was attracted to the school because the faculty were required to be practicing artists with work in galleries. She says she was heavily influenced by her instructors, one in particular. “One of my first mentors was Carolyn Meyer. She’s a landscape painter who inspired me so much that I wanted to emulate her.” For a time, Guenevere thought she was destined to be a landscape painter working in the alla prima method, which is the cornerstone of the school’s art education. “I was really into painting these rainy street scenes,” she says, starting to laugh. “I went through so many tubes of Ultramarine Blue. Tubes and tubes of it! My mother still calls it my blue period.” But in her last semester of the program, she met another artist who changed the course of her career.
During those last few months of school, Guenevere discovered motorcycle riding, a hobby she still enjoys to this day. “I got really into motorcycles, and I couldn’t stop obsessing about them,” she admits. “I was taking a class with Kevin Moore, and finally one day he said, ‘You talk about motorcycles all the time. When are you going to start painting them?’ It completely opened my eyes to something new. It was as if he had given me permission to think about painting something other than landscapes, something I was truly passionate about. And that’s when I became Motopainter.”
For several years, Guenevere focused primarily on motorcycle art, creating paintings under the name Motopainter. She has explored other subjects as well, but recently she’s begun a new series involving lights, which she believes will be her signature subject matter offering a lifetime of possibilities. A spirit of fun, a love of color, and a dedication to showing movement are the threads that tie all of this work together. “I really dislike the term ‘still life,’” she states emphatically. “My paintings do not fit that description. Are we stuck with that term for life? If we are, I’m going to rebel against that as much as I can.”
Not only has Guenevere’s subject matter changed over time, her approach to painting has as well. And it all started with an exhibit at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. “I worked there during college,” Guenevere explains, “and I had the privilege of seeing a lot of great exhibitions. One of them was a Chuck Close retrospective, and I can still remember the first time I saw his huge black-and-white self-portrait. I was truly amazed—that was the sensation I felt, pure amazement. Since then, I have been striving to create paintings that have that kind of impact.” Guenevere says that’s when she fell in love with photorealism and started training herself to precisely render the illusion of a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface.
While technical mastery is certainly an important component of her work, narrative and meaning are equally essential in creating the kind of impact she’s after. Oddly enough, her ability in this area has been enhanced by her practice of capturing her art-making process on video. Guenevere started shooting videos of her work in progress several years ago when she was commissioned to paint a six- by nine-foot painting for a motorcycle collector. “I knew this would be a rare opportunity,” she notes, “so I hired a videographer to document the occasion.” She enjoyed going back and reviewing the creation of that painting so much that she taught herself how to record her own videos of herself at work, which she now posts to her YouTube channel as often as she can. But only recently has she begun to appreciate the ways her video documentation has influenced her art. “Storytelling is crucial to making a good video, and I started to realize that you can do that in art,” she goes on to explain. “Even in painting, you can pare down the feelings and distill the story into a single image. So, in a way, shooting videos has shown me how to communicate an idea in one image.”
Perhaps this explains why Guenevere is so content working on the new series about lights. They are the perfect vehicle for both technique and expression, allowing her to make emotional statements through visual communication, which is the very thing she says she’s been striving for all these years. “These paintings represent a message I want to share with the world,” she notes. “To find the beauty in the tangled mess, to constantly look for that gold in the garbage, the light in the dark—that’s a huge life lesson that I’m still making a daily reality. So, my message is triumph over struggle, and I hope people find that kind of mystery and magic and joy in my work.”
Bringing hope and positivity to the world through art is no small thing. Turns out, there’s purpose, challenge, and a wealth of self-fulfillment in making pictures for a living.
Recently named the Grand Prize winner of the American Women Artists 2017 Spring Juried Exhibition, Guenevere Schwien is a member of the International Guild of Realism and is currently represented by the Carmel Art Association. To see more of the artist’s work, visit her website at www.gueneveres.com
is a marketer, artist, writer, and entrepreneur. She currently provides art marketing services and coaching to visual artists through her company, Connect Artist Marketing. Learn more at www.connectartistmarketing.com.
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