People always ask "Where do you get your inspiration from?'.  I think its true that myself along with many other artists find inspiration in different ways on different days.  For me, inspiration rarely comes when I wake up in the morning and more often than not it will only show up when I put myself to work and get engaged.  Picasso said "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working".  This is more often the case with me.  
This is not to say that I am an uninspired artist, it just means that if you wait for inspiration, it may not come and you will have "writer's block" so to speak... indefinately.  It is in the act of painting that inspiration comes, and once it comes it takes over everything... sometimes to the point where you loose track of time and your environment.  
Some artist's say they have a muse ... which I personally will never be able to understand.  I work alone, the way I like it.

Nathan Oliveira
Nathan Oliveira

You're sitting there with your muse and your muse is telling you something and you’re following it, and you end up the next day looking at it and thinking "what the hell was the muse saying to me?"
-Nathan Oliveira

What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.
-Eugene Delacroix


Hermanas II

I just realized that I hadn't done a post about Hermanas II being finished. About 7 years ago I finished a painting that I worked on periodically for almost a year. I called it Hermanas. It depicts 4 women, three with veils, all facing the opposite direction of the viewer. It was 7 feet by 5 feet. I sold the piece and have always wanted to do it again in a more compelling way.

Hermanas by Ryan Swallow - Acrylic on Canvas 84"x60"

The result was Hermanas II which I finished a few weeks ago...

Hermanas II by Ryan Swallow - Acrylic on Canvas 72"x60"


Walk Away!

I've noticed something over the years while looking at incredibly bad art... People don't know when to put down the brush and stop. There is a place for overworked surfaces, but when it succeeds it is generally intentional. What I'm talking about is a piece where the frustration or ineptitude causes someone to work and rework a section or an entire piece until it turns into a pile of shit. Generally speaking, none of said paintings would have EVER been good, but on occasion you'll see pieces with hints of brilliance that could have been good if the artist had simply put down the brush and walked away.
In large paintings you can really observe this illness. One section worked to death and other sections with little or no effort to bring all parts into a whole. You will see artists quite often step back... I myself sometimes spend almost equal time stepping back and observing as I do time with the brush. This is an important part of the process and one that allows you to mold what you have done into the vision of the future. The ability to know when to walk away is one that all great artists must have.
-Ryan Swallow

"A painting is never finished - it simply stops in interesting places."
- Paul Gardner
Gerhard Richter - Lesende Reader 1994

"I can't always reach the image in my mind.. almost never, in fact... so that the abstract image I create is not quite there, but it gets to the point where I can leave it."
-Gerhard Richter
"Reader" Oil on Canvas by Gerhard Richter


Creativity and Madness

I highly recommend a book called "Creativity & Madness: Psychological Studies of Art & Artists".  You can find it used online for 20 bucks or new at the author's website for $25. I read it years ago and recently picked it up again. The most interestingly self-relevent subject matter discussed is regarding "mirroring" and/or the Oedipal complex in which the artist sees the parent as an artist and feels the need to repeat and surpass the parent's ability in order to win their favor... even after the parent's death.  Vincent van Gogh's mother sketched flowers, Jackson Pollack's mother was a weaver and quilt maker and encouraged art in the house, Frida Kahlo's father was a professional photographer, Picasso's father an artist.Detail of Willy by Ryan Swallow
I grew up watching my father paint landscapes, farmland, buildings and swallow birds.  My early attempts at drawing were average to horrible.  It wasn't until I was 18 and taking my first drawing class in college that I knew I could draw.  
After I put this book down I spent a lot of time reflecting on my own life, my decisions and how I had been impacted by my father's passion for painting.  I'll leave it at that for now, but there is certainly a connection there that I believe is less genetic and more an observed admiration that transforms a person into an artist.
-Ryan Swallow

Although the dream is a very strange phenomenon and an inexplicable mystery, far more inexplicable is the mystery and aspect our minds confer on certain objects and aspects of life. Psychologically speaking, to discover something mysterious in objects is a symptom of cerebral abnormality related to certain kinds of insanity. I believe, however, that such abnormal moments can be found in everyone, and it is all the more fortunate when they occur in individuals with creative talent or with clairvoyant powers. Art is the fatal net which catches these strange moments on the wing like mysterious butterflies, fleeing the innocence and distraction of common men. 
-Giorgio de Chirico

Diana by Augustus Saint-GaudensA great artist… must be shaken by the naked truths that will not be comforted. This divine discontent, this disequilibrium, this state of inner tension is the source of artistic energy.  

What garlic is to salad, insanity is to art.  
-Augustus Saint-Gaudens

There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line. 
-Oscar Levant

The fine arts once divorcing themselves from truth are quite certain to fall mad, if they do not die.  
-Thomas Carlyle, Latter Day Pamphlets, no. 8

Art will remain the most astonishing activity of mankind born out of struggle between wisdom and madness, between dream and reality in our mind. 
-Magdalena Abakanowicz

Art should astonish, transmute, transfix. One must work at the tissue between truth and paranoia. 
-Brett Whiteley
For me, painting is a way to forget life. It is a cry in the night, a strangled laugh.
-Georges Rouault

I paint in order not to cry.
- Paul Klee 

The only difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad.
-Salvador Dali


Why talk about ART?

The first shows I had were at my own little studio/gallery in Portland, Oregon called Trixhaus Gallery. With each new show, I became increasingly withdrawn and ended up at the favorite place of gallery junkies - the free wine bar. The reason for this was the unrelenting jabber about the paintings, their meaning, and the endless opines on likes and dislikes. I'll never forget my first big show. There were critics, photographers, artists, rich people and just about every other kind of typical gallery-goer. Within the first hour, I had someone trash my work right next to me, not knowing who I was. I have pretty thick skin these days, but back then my ego was fairly fragile. The first time I read Francis Bacon's quote "If you can talk about it, why paint it?", I thought: "This should be posted in every gallery and museum in the world". The most wonderful and powerful thing about art is that it speaks to us without words, that paintings are the words of the artist and that that connection meets somewhere between the viewer and the painting. Of course paintings leave unanswered questions, but isn't that what makes us want to look at them every day and possess them? Most great artists are dead and weren't fully appreciated in their lifetime... the appreciation came after anyone could ask any questions. So I'll leave it to you to decide, but for me, let the art and not the artist speak to you.
-Ryan Swallow

It's always hopeless talking about painting - one never does anything but talk around it - because, if you could explain you painting, you would be explaining you instincts.
-Francis Bacon

Art is made to disturb. Science reassures. There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.
-Georges Braque

An artist cannot talk about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.

-Jean Cocteau

It is a mistake for a sculptor or a painter to speak or write very often about his job. It releases tension needed for his work.
-Henry Moore

One of the best things about paintings is their silence - which prompts reflection and random reverie.
-Mark Stevens

Edward Hopper - Eleven AMIf I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.
-Edward Hopper

As far as I am concerned, a painting speaks for itself. What is the use of giving explanations, when all is said and done? A painter has only one language.
-Pablo Picasso

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way--things I had no words for.
-Georgia O'Keeffe

Art is made to disturb. Science reassures. There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain. 
-Georges Braque


Thoughts on Mortality

The more I produce, the less I am certain. On the road along which the artist walks, night falls ever more densely. Finally, he dies blind. -Albert Camus

Everyone has talent at twenty-five. The difficulty is to have it at fifty. -Edgar Degas

Soon I'll be old and I've done precious little in this world for lack of time. I am always afraid I'll become senile before I've finished what I've undertaken. -Paul Gauguin

You're only as young as the last time you changed your mind. -Timothy Leary

Jean-Michel BasquiatDying young is the easy way out. It's much harder to keep your edge and keep it going. -Robert Longo on Jean-Michel Basquiat

It's a shock for me to go through and see all those years of painting my life, which is very personal for me. It's a very difficult thing for an artist to look back at his work. -Andrew Wyeth


Thoughts on "The Nude" in Art

Libyan Sibyl And who is so barbarous as not to understand that the foot of a man is nobler than his shoe, and his skin nobler than that of the sheep with which he is clothed.

He who does not master the nude, cannot understand the principles of architecture.

Libyan Sibyl from the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, thought by some to be a male model for a female figure.

When we respect the nude, we will no longer have any shame about it. -Robert Henri

I look at a nude. There are myriads of tiny tints. I must find the ones that will make the flesh on my canvas live and quiver.

-Pierre-Auguste Renoir Nude by Ryan Swallow

There is no subject I can paint which is more frustrating and at the same time extremely satisfying than the figure.
-Ryan Swallow

I never think I have finished a nude until I think I could pinch it.

-Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Bikini by Wayne ThiebaudIt's the most important study there is and the most challenging and the most difficult. -Wayne Thiebaud -on drawing the nude

Bikini by Wayne Thiebaud


John Singer Sargent Quote

"Everytime I paint a portrait I lose a friend"

Favorites: "Spanish Dancer" & "Nude Egyptian Girl"


Hermanas II

An update of the progress on the newest painting - Hermanas II


Hermanas II

The beginnings of the latest painting I'm working on.


Lucian Freud Quote

I remember Francis Bacon would say that he felt he was giving art what he thought it previously lacked. With me, it's what Yeats called the fascination with what's difficult. I'm only trying to do what I can't do.


Fran Lebowitz quote

Very few people possess true artistic ability. It is therefore both unseemly and unproductive to irritate the situation by making an effort. If you have a burning, restless urge to write or paint, simply eat something sweet and the feeling will pass.
-Fran Lebowitz


Book Cover

This is a painting of mine "Willy" that was used as a book cover for a Spanish translation of "The Place" by Annie Ernaux.

John Ciardi - Quote of the Day

Modern Art is what happens when painters stop looking at girls and persuade themselves that they have a better idea.


Benjamin Franklin

Those things that hurt, instruct.
-Benjamin Franklin

A Ryanism

Point of view is less in the positioning of the viewer and more in the time spent meditating the view.

Rambling about Portraits and Wallpaper

There lies a balance somewhere between intimacy and aloofness or naiveté which must exist between the painter and his human subject or model. Intimacy or extreme familiarity creates conflict between what the artist has seen of the subjects soul and what he actually sees with human eyes. A battle ensues and most often the painter loses, is never satisfied, because the painter cannot paint the soul or essence of a person. The same applies with the self-portrait. The painter seeing his image in a contorted two-dimensional mirror, struggles with the sense of how he appears to others and the distorted view of his soul. This explains the painful process I have gone through in painting myself. A certain detachment is required. The opposite extreme being a purely imagined character with no similarities to any model, friend or figure the artist has viewed before. My point or theory being that the most moving portrait is of someone that captures the essence of humankind; one that any viewer can feel a sense of intimacy and mystery in the same moment; a picture that contains bits and pieces of the painters experience, existence and memory as well as current references and models.I suppose this theory is my goal and when I have achieved it in the past, it is quite apparent. People feel so intimately associated with the painting and yet are left with so many questions. People need to be left with questions, but these questions bring me to another related point: Answering these questions about my paintings is completely pointless and devalues the paintings worth, not only for the buyer, but the viewer. The collective human experience creates a sense of kinship with all people, but when art (in any medium) is specifically defined by the artist for the public, the viewing public has lost its need for art. The music becomes something to fill the air, the theater or ballet a place to fill a social quota or impress a date, the painting is then something to fill the space on the wall. This sickens me, because I know that most of the paying public is spending their money on art for these exact reasons. If there is a title, a description, a definition of every specific piece of art, then there is no naiveté, no mystery, there are no questions, no underlying connection and beauty. Then art ceases to be art; ceases to be priceless and becomes worthless.

Francis Bacon Quotes

If you can talk about it, why paint it?
-Francis Bacon

I enjoy life but I have absolutely no belief In anything, I don't say that anguish doesn't play a part in my work. The very fact that you exist, that you see what's going on around you, that must create anguish in anybody. I have a feeling of mortality all the time because if life excites you, its opposite, death, like a shadow, must excite you.
-Francis Bacon

Great art is always a way of concentrating, reinventing what is called fact, what we know of our existence - a reconcentration... tearing away the veils that fact acquires through time. Ideas always acquire appearance veils, the attitudes people acquire of their time and earlier time. Really good artists tear down those veils.
-Francis Bacon

It's always hopeless talking about painting - one never does anything but talk around it - because, if you could explain you painting, you would be explaining you instincts.
-Francis Bacon

Everybody has his own interpretation of a painting he sees. I don't mind if people have different interpretations of what I have painted ... A picture should be a re-creation of an event rather than an illustration of an object; but there is no tension in the picture unless there is the struggle with the object.
-Francis Bacon

I think that great art is deeply ordered. Even if within the order there may be enormously instinctive and accidental things, nevertheless I think that they come out of a desire for ordering and for returning fact onto the nervous system in a more violent way. Why, after the great artists, do people ever try to do anything again? Only because, from generation to generation, through what the great artists have done, the instincts change.
-Francis Bacon

One of the reasons why I don't like abstract painting, or why it doesn't interest me, is that I think painting is a duality, and that abstract painting is an entirely aesthetic thing... There's never any tension in it. -Francis Bacon The moment there are several figures - at any rate several figures on the same canvas - the story begins to be elaborated. And the moment the story is elaborated, the boredom sets in; the story talks louder than the paint... I don't want to avoid telling a story, but I want very, very much to do the thing that Valéry said - to give the sensation without the boredom of it's conveyance. And the moment the story enters, the boredom comes upon you.
-Francis Bacon

Peculiarity breeds contempt

The man who follows the crowd, will usually get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before. Creativity in living is not without it's attending difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt... and the unfortunate thing about being ahead of your time is that when people finally realize you were right, they'll say it was obvious all along. You have two choices in life: You can dissolve into the mainstream, or you can be distinct. To be distinct, you must be different. To be different you must strive to be what no one else but you can be.

-Alan Ashley-Pitt

Pioneertown Studio


These were my wedding vows that I wrote and recited. I think they are a good universal prenup.
Do you love me?
(A prenuptial agreement)
Give me space to move
Let me be selfish a few times
Help me find myself
Show me something new every day
Let me love you
Let me have a bad habit
Ask me how I feel
Tell me how you feel
Be there most of the time
Help me find beauty in the world
Give me a reason to live
Give me a reason to die
Take me to a new place
Let me be emotional
Allow my insecurities to surface
Show me that "we" matter, not "they"
Snuggle and hold me
Know when to say no
Push me over cliffs of challenge
Catch me if I fall
Be my best friend
Sign on the dotted line
If you love me

Henry Miller on Henri Matisse

"... He is a bright sage, a dancing seer who, with a sweep of the brush, removes the ugly scaffold to which the body of man is chained by the incontrovertible facts of life. He it is, if any man today possesses the gift, who knows where to dissolve the human figure, who has the courage to sacrifice an harmonious line in order to detect the rhythm and murmur of the blood, who takes the light that has been refracted inside him and lets it flood the keyboard of color. Behind the minutiae, the chaos, the mockery of life, he detects the invisible pattern; he announces his discoveries in the metaphysical pigment of space. No searching for formulae, no crucifixion of ideas, no compulsion other than to create. Even as the world goes to smash there is one man who remains at the core, who becomes more solidly fixed and anchored, more centrifugal as the process of dissolution quickens." -Henry Miller (on Henri Matisse) Tropic of Cancer

Robert Irwin Quote

Robert Irwin at the Getty Garden he designed & where I proposed to my wife Veronica.
The idea that an "old sculptural response" is the offending turd in the plaza is as wrong minded as conceptualists saying "Painting is dead." On the contrary, in a conditional world, on occasion a cannon on the front lawn maybe the appropriate response. In the realm of the phenomenal, "less is more" only when less is the sum total of more.
-Robert Irwin


"...The new paintings are a body of work done during his one year sabbatical in Mexico... Much of Swallow's stay in Mexico was spent in the remote town of San Miguel de Allende, where he encountered what was to become the largest single influence on his painting - a Spanish painter named Santiago Carbonell who was living in the same area. Carbonell's masterful Renaissance figurative style, a historical eye and patient build from simple line and chiaroscuro guided Swallow's already classical penchant to a new level of technical accomplishment. Work from this time creates a delicate balance between abstractly expressive color fields and impeccable studies in the classical figure painting. The blend of archetypal elements from the canon of Western painting - the line and the color - produces an unmistakably modern sense of displacement in the compositions. The artist demonstrates his concerns with representations of gender and perception, specifically the values of traditional, conservative gender dichotomies. His work confronts the thin line which separates possession and rendering - that which has been termed a masculine gaze. Through deconstructing the paradigm of the artist and model, male and female, and exploring this delicate relationship in a religious context in this day and age. Swallow has taken his painting to a new level of cultural investigation. Swallow's paintings have grown to be more and more figurative, rendered in a sensual hand, lurking in lush shadows full of incense and faith. He has also begun a return to more explicitly Christian imagery. This represents a mature fusion between the deep religion of his youth and the flesh and vision of his adulthood. A quest critical to the spiritual growth of all humans, undertaken by a cruelly analytical and refined modern sensibility.


Marcel Proust

Everything great in the world is created by neurotics. They have composed our masterpieces, but we don't consider what they have cost their creators in sleepless nights and, worst of all, fear of death.
-Marcel Proust

Picasso Quote

Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird? Why does one love the night, flowers, everything around one, without trying to understand them? But in the case of a painting people have to understand. If only they would realize above all that an artist works of necessity, that he himself is only a trifling bit of the world, and that no more importance should be attached to him than to plenty of other things which please us in the world, though we can't explain them. People who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree.

I've always been fascinated by Picasso the person but never a huge fan of his art. I always thought his work in Paris during WWII was the most engaging and honest. He was considered an Anarchist during the Paris years and never trusted by the government or police during the war. His famous last words before he died in 1973:

"Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink any more.”

Phaedrus II

The latest painting is almost finished - "Phaedrus II"


Question Everything

In the short run it is more comfortable... to stay where we are, to keep using the same microcosmic map, to avoid suffering the death of cherished notions. The road of spiritual growth, however lies in the opposite direction. We begin be distrusting what we already believe, by actively seeking the threatening and unfamiliar, by deliberately challenging the validity of what we have previously been taught and hold dear. The path to holiness lies through questioning everything... To be vital, to be the best of which we are capable, our religion must be a wholly personal one, forged entirely through the fire of our questioning and doubting in the crucible or our own experience of reality

-M. Scott Peck
"The Road Less Traveled"


The Reflection

Reflections of someone I don't know
He looks familiar, tired, worn
Others who meet him
Don't see the reflections they used to see
They see him only as he is
He knows it's pointless to speak
To the reflection
The reflection speaks for itself
And knows it's weaknesses
The reflection could change
But not easily
He would have to leave the reflection
And hope that when he saw it again
It would be better, clearer, more familiar
He would have to have hope
That the reflection was strong
Strong enough to come back
To be there when he looked

The Sage

The demons masked in their seclusion
Awakened by the familiar call to haunt.
Dancing through his present plight,
A memorial dance of his contamination.
He accepts the tribute without protest,
Glaring at them, with nostalgic discontent
They glare back like self-anointed oracles
As to say, we are you, and you, our sage.
He collapses feeling the burden of truth.
The demons sulk back to their caverns
And await the familiar call to haunt.

Hell's Palm

The place of hell's palm creases leaving the crevice where he dwells.
The breadth of a tic has he, the strength borrowed from others.
He feels the decaying defecation filling his unhallowed flesh.
Hell hath no equal fury to that hell he is self inflicting.
His life, a perpetually swelling lie, tumors mimicking his soul.
He feels the cancer, its' reality, its' presence encroaching as it's fed.
His fear overwhelming, yet ignored will swallow him whole in an instant.
As the place of hell's palm tightens its merciless grasp.

Map of the Heart

Time carves craters in my heart, leaving deep and dark the abyss of knowing and comprehending the passion and pleasure of love.

Left before me on the mountain tops are cold and brittle reminders, perfectly mummified, plainly visible recollections of doors slammed, love lost.

Dusty and worn, the map of the heart kept in mothball trunk under lock,as three dimensional as the Pieta but with markings of chisel and hammer.

Who or what will intervene with finishing tools and key in handto take the unfinished and worn piece to make beauty from the deluge.