Benjamin Swett

Artists’ Statements

86. Jamestown, Rhode Island, 1994. Lyn Swett Miller. Silver Gelatin Print. Rachel was the first child I adored.  Her smile and curiosity were beguiling.  Rachel's attraction to cameras seemed perfectly natural, given the number of those devices in our family.  I love the fact that Benjy felt comfortable sharing his SLR with her, a testament to his faith that Rachel knew what to do.  She always did.  Like each of us in our family, Rachel had her own perspective on the world.  I love that as well, how we may all love photography, but we create such different images.

87. Suddenly. 2010. Anne Lafond. Oil on Canvas with Embedded Newsprint. The original image of the painting "Suddenly" had come to me in the spring of 2010 when suddenly the weather turned freakishly warm, and all the magnolia trees went into full bloom overnight. Lots of people came out to the lawns in Prospect Park with plastic bag picnics, and kids in strollers, and dogs and bikes. The scene reminded me of all the wonderful late 19th century picnic paintings from Monet to Seurat, and of course Manet's Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe. In my version, there was also a group of picnickers on the blanket, two men and two women, (one on a cellphone.) There was no shocking nude, but the dog was barking.

In many of my paintings I try to suggest the fragility of our private worlds in the context of today's events, the impact of which we are perhaps even unaware, until suddenly something breaks though the crust of the ordinary. To do this, I often embedded newspaper in them  -- in this case under the grass.

Then in June of 2010 as I was completing the painting, we got the news of Rachel's sudden death. From then on, working on the picture became a process of grieving for my friends and their loss, remembering the times we had spent as young couples with our children on the grass, discussing the world and its meaning as reflected in art and literature, and in our own life experiences to some extent. But now life was here, raw and cruel and inexplicable. Not a picnic conversation.

As I got feedback on the painting over the course of the fall, most people liked it except for the figures. They said they communicated a sense of ordinary people in the context of today's events, but not the feeling of a sudden cataclysmic change or the unfathomable absence that the loss of a child must bring. I kept reworking the figures trying to fix them until one day, I realized the picture didn't need them. In one fell swoop,  I painted them out leaving just the blanket, the picnic and the dog under the excessively vibrant trees. The picture was done.

Since then, "Suddenly" has evoked at least something of the response I had hoped for. Art critic Donald Kuspit said that it had an "irksome rhythm" and most viewers have commented on the inexplicably absent figures. And the viciousness of the dog!

89. The Bridesmaid, 1993. Sarah Swett. Wool Tapestry. I always called it "The Bridesmaid" though it should more properly have been "The Flower Girl."  At the time I was thinking about how adults play roles at weddings-- dressed up in our finery we are bride, groom, mother-of-the... etc, all lining up for the photographs by which we will remember the day.  Rachel, on the other hand, though  apparently enjoying the clothes, was  fully there, utterly herself,  real.

90. Infused with Your Memory. 2010. Joni Wehrli. Acrylic on Canvas.
After a summer of sorrow and limited productivity in the Catskills, I went back to New York in the fall of 2010 and forced myself to start working again in the studio. Re-focusing on space, light, color and form distracted me from feeling life’s senselessness, though I was still thinking very much about Rachel. My ruminations about her loss fused with observations of the yellows, reds and shriveled browns of fallen leaves, the encroaching cold and darkness that (finally!) reflected the spirit of the world as it seemed to me. Grasping for light and warmth, I remembered Rachel’s sense of fun, her dry humor, her delight in passing around the dessert bottle of crème de menthe that looked like it had been in the family for generations. In this painting of a heart, light and darkness, warmth and cold coalesce, and if you look hard enough you might even see a trace of the crème de menthe. The piece is called “Infused With Your Memory.”