Matthew Frank Swanson was born in November 1961 in Fremont, Michigan. As a child he spent his days exploring the woods near his home, learning from his Naturalist mother the names of trees, birds, creatures in the pond, and the edible plants growing on the forest floor. The area was rural and Swanson spent his teenage summers working on local farms. When he left home for school he thought he would teach but his focus quickly shifted and he joined the art department to pursue Studio Art and American Literature at Albion College, Michigan State, Kendall, and Aquinas College; pursuing a BFA in Sculpture with minors and in Painting and Art History.
The natural world he has immersed himself in has formed him into the artist he is today. Matthew Swanson considers himself to be a Naturalist painter with Postmodern influences and primarily a student of those who came before him. He follows a line that begins with Cézanne and ends with the California Landscape School. Along the way his work sees traces of Kandinsky, the Fauves, Matisse, Marin, Diebenkorn, and Hockney. Though not necessarily recognizable, all of his paintings are landscapes. His collages are used to bring smaller landscapes into a larger format, helping to simplify the forms and freeing him from the trap of ‘local color’. Swanson's work is improvisational. He starts with an idea fragment and allows it to take its own path. Along the way he becomes a problem solver, wrangling the ideas back into some kind of ‘form’ hoping at the end of the process to have found a convincing object. When asked about his work, Swanson referenced a story of an early American Modernist painter named John Marin. In the story, Marin’s response when told what beautiful abstractions of the sea he had made were that the painting is not an abstraction, it is the sea. This idea has affected Swanson’s work and his position on the crafted image versus the crafted object. He prefers the painting stand alone rather than being defined by its subject matter. He liked to think of his pieces as a kind of musical expression with movement, syncopation, and popping color.
Matthew Swanson’s work can be found in private and corporate collections including Herman Miller, Steelcase, and Holland Hospital.
My work is improvisational. I start with an idea fragment and it takes its own path. Along the way, I find that I become a problem solver while I try and wrangle the ideas back into some kind of form. I like to think that the pieces are a kind of musical expression with movement, syncopation, and popping color. At the end of the “process”, I hope to find a convincing object. And don’t get me started on Minimalism and flatness. To paraphrase Matisse or the Fauves… It’s not everything, but it’s close.