Liz Sweibel

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Artist Statement

My pieces are intimate records of activity that draw attention to attention – given, received, withdrawn, absent.  The visual and visceral impact of each tiny point of contact, overlap, or disconnect is what the work both reduces and expands to.  My practice is an expression of care that matches my experience of the world as the accumulation and juxtaposition of small decisions and acts that seem simple but aren’t: they reveal us; define our relationships to each other, our histories, and our environment; and open to possibility, stasis, or pain.

My Process

A bundle of used wood. Piles of worn house fragments. Bits of frayed cloth. Loops of wire. The genesis of my work is a dialog with discarded objects and materials I collect. I recognize them in some way, or something in them that wants drawing out. The dialog is latent at first, and becomes more explicit over time.

Mine is an intuitive process of saving, organizing, looking, touching, trying out, rejecting, building on, taking apart, and repurposing this collected material. The intention is to make unseen, overwhelming, and unattended-to forces visible, and to draw attention to them.

I keep things for years before I see a way to use them. Sometimes I approach something but withdraw, realizing it premature; mostly, I ruminate on what it seems to hold. I don’t decide the timetable; it’s just that “suddenly” I can use something with some confidence when a day earlier I couldn’t use it at all. Waiting, then, is an active aspect of my practice. The subterranean activity that goes on is like the sub- and unconscious rumblings that in their own time burst through as new, seemingly spontaneous understandings.

Once I do begin working with something, the cycle repeats and produces generations of work – some from the raw source, some from earlier generations and rejected efforts, some from the scraps. The process is a tidal pattern of ideas emerging, coming closer, and receding until one becomes clear enough for action. Then I make, unmake, and remake until I find the form. Each successive generation distills essential information from its source and infuses a fresh perspective, one meant to elicit new meaning-making, questions, and resolutions, however precarious.

The work is rooted in a belief in human possibility, one that breaks down utterly in countless individual circumstances. Yet it’s the individual who must sense possibility, and the small scale of my pieces is meant to engage one viewer at a time, even as my concerns are high-stakes and global. Each work reaches for the many by engaging intimately with the one, using that private moment to frame the delicate intricacies and impacts of our relationships. The quality of attention the work asks for is that needed to locate the compassion, empathy, and respect to live with each other in our differences.

For Example

The sculpture and installation in this portfolio (#1-14) are from a bundle of about 20 battered, warped lengths of wood I found in my Boston studio hallway in 2000 (“the sticks”). Each stick was about four to six feet tall, and about one inch wide and deep. Three of the sides were raw wood, and the fourth had been painted a pale yellow, which had chipped and faded.

I walked by the sticks many times before taking them, even as I was drawn to them immediately. There was a resistance operating that reflects my sense of responsibility for what I take on as mine.

Over a year later, I doweled the sticks into my studio floor, like a forest, and began applying color to the three raw sides of each stick, layer after layer of paint, until I could wander the forest and be satisfied with the color from every angle. This was less about making art than initiating a relationship with the material. I have not touched the color since.

This portfolio includes examples from most of the resulting work. The first series began in 2002 (#14), the second in 2003 (#13). These many years later, now living in New York City, I continue to work with the original sticks and all the bits and pieces I save from my engagement with them. In 2007, I cut some sticks into lengths of two to five inches; What We Do to Each Other came from this process (#11). In 2008, I began slicing paint off the sticks’ sides, saving all the scraps and splinters. This reinvigorated the dialog and began the trajectory that continues today (#1-10, #12).

The sculptures are singular and self-sufficient; combined in a meaningful context, they suggest narrative and community. The intimacy and autonomy of the one holds, but within the complexities and responsibilities of other relationships.

My drawing practice parallels my process in three dimensions. Each drawing in this portfolio (#15-20) has a photograph as its source. Some photos I find; others I take. I have a visceral response to the photo, followed by a period of waiting, then “suddenly” see a way to respond and give the photo’s most vital information new form.

The tsunami in Japan in 2011 inspired a series of drawings (#16-18); each is a reduction of an overwhelming visual experience that I did not have but feel responsible to know. The labor of the knotting kept me engaged with the tragedy long after it left the front page.

The 2013 sinking of the MOL Comfort, a container ship en route to Saudi Arabia from Singapore, resulted in a three-layer drawing (#15) that tracks just five minutes in the ship’s demise. Like the Japan drawings, it uses the assumption of neatly stacked shipping containers to capture the effects of unfathomable forces.

The NURTUREart floor (site of my solo exhibit fragments of our own) is embedded with patterns of decades-old tiles. My photos initiated drawings (#19-20) that transform this close-range subject matter into a mysterious landscape. Further, my recent sculpture (#1) was built on top of such a drawing – literally. The drawing’s logic helped determine the sculpture’s; the splinters are from another element in the exhibit (#6).

And So

Timeworn materials and objects have an intelligence that is worth looking and listening for. I draw again and again from a small number of sources that resonate and then branch out, fissure-like. My work as an artist is to mine this territory, shaping and reshaping material to find new form and elicit new insights. The limitations of my process are its strengths; they offer an elegant structure for my work to realize my intentions.




MA in Counseling, Manhattan College.

MFA in Studio Arts, Maine College of Art.

BFA in Painting, Massachusetts College of Art.

BA in English, University of Florida.

Exhibition Record

* solo exhibit

NURTUREart Benefit. The Boiler, Brooklyn, NY.
It’s a Small World. R. Jampol Projects, New York, NY.
The Girls Next Door. Ground Floor Gallery, Brooklyn, NY.

*fragments of our own. NURTUREart, Brooklyn, NY. [catalog] How Simple Can You Get? Creative Arts Workshop, New Haven, CT. Robert Storr, Juror.

Parts to the Whole. Medicine Factory. Memphis, TN.

Revealing the Ordinary. Gallery Korea, New York, NY. [catalog] Signs on the Road. Winkelman Curatorial Research Lab, New York, NY.

Ekleksographia. Rich Murphy, Guest Editor.

Many Kinds of Nothing. Montserrat College of Art Gallery, Beverly, MA. Shana Dumont, Curator. [catalog] Inertia Magazine, IV. Rich Murphy, Guest Editor.

Neo-Abstraction. AG Gallery, Brooklyn, NY. Tomoko Ashikawa, Curator.

*Re:Union. HallSpace, Boston, MA.
*Opening. Elizabeth A. Beland Gallery, Essex Art Center, Lawrence, MA.
DNA Gallery, Provincetown, MA.
The Schoolhouse Galleries, Provincetown, MA.

150 x 150. The Gallery @ Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA.
MFA Thesis Show. Maine College of Art, Portland, ME.
Remains: Four Artists Mine Memory and Meaning. Lamont Gallery, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH. Barbara Rita Jenny, Curator.
Marks Made. Cushing-Martin Gallery, Stonehill College, Easton, MA. Jennifer Roff, Guest Curator.
Sacred and Profane. Battery Steele, Peaks Island, Portland, ME.

Lost & Found. The Mills Gallery, Boston, MA. Rebecca Tasker, Curator. [catalog] Visual Feast. Kingston Gallery, Boston, MA.
South Enders. The Mills Gallery, Boston, MA. Annette Lemieux, Juror.

17th Annual Drawing Show. The Mills Gallery, Boston, MA. Bill Arning, Curator. [catalog]

150 x 150. The Gallery @ Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA.
Certain Moments. Art with modern dance. Mobius, Boston, MA. Jody Weber, Choreographer.
For the Time, Being. A collaborative installation with Åsa Chibás and Traci Wile. Fort Point Arts Community Gallery, Boston, MA.

Fear & Loathing in the New Millennium. The Heywood Gallery, Worcester, MA. Nick Capasso and Jessica Morgan, Jurors.
100 x 100. The Gallery @ Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA.
7th Invitational Exhibition. The John Slade Ely House, New Haven, CT.
MPG at 1. MPG, Boston, MA.
New Art ‘99. MPG, Boston, MA. Carl Belz, Juror.
DD-MM-YY. Empty foundry, Hartford, CT. David Borawski, Curator.
Verge. Art with modern dance. Green Street Studios, Cambridge, MA. Jody Weber, Choreographer.

*Skin and Bones. Gallery 70, Worcester, MA.
100 x 100. The Gallery @ Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA.
Gallery 70 II Boston Debut. Fort Point Arts Community Gallery, Boston, MA.
Small Work. The Gallery @ Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA.
Gallery 70 Inaugural Group Show. Gallery 70, Worcester, MA.

Prizes and Awards

Albert Murray Educational Fund Grant.

Maine College of Art Grant.
Albert Murray Educational Fund Grant.

Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Grant, Finalist, Sculpture.
St. Botolph Club Foundation Grant-in-Aid.
Maine College of Art Grant.
Albert Murray Educational Fund Grant.

Gallery Award, New Art ‘99, MPG, Boston, MA.

Residencies and Fellowships

2008 Montserrat College of Art, Beverly, MA.

2007 Vermont Studio Center (partial fellowship), Johnson, VT.

Selected Bibliography

Doherty, D. (2013, July 18). “How Simple Can You Get?” A remarkable show at Creative Arts Workshop. New Haven Register.
Galgiani, A., & Manousakis, D. (2013, September 5). Art is BACK! 10 Bushwick art shows to defeat “summer nihilism.” Bushwick Daily.
Knutson, A. (2013, September 4). GOS artist profile: Liz Sweibel and trying to figure “it” out. Art in Limbo.

Wei, L. (2012). Gallery Korea’s 2011 round-up. Gallery Korea 2011: Finalists from the Call for Artists 2011. New York: Korean Cultural Service.

Raymond, D. (2008/2009, December/January). Spotlight review: Many Kinds of Nothing. Art New England.

McQuaid, C. (2008, October 5). “Nothing” is happening: Minimalist works help provoke a meditative state. Boston Sunday Globe.

McCoy, M. B. (2004, June/July). Liz Sweibel: Re:Union. Art New England, p. 30.

McQuaid, C. (2002, March 29). Using found objects, artists create works that grapple with loss. The Boston Globe, p. F18.
McQuaid, C. (2002, December 29). The best of 2002: City’s energetic galleries flourished despite economic slump. Boston Sunday Globe, p. N2.
Sherman, M. (2002, March 10). Discover new sculpture at “Lost & Found.” Boston Herald, p. 63.

Taylor, C. (2000, June 10). Duo makes “Moments” count. Boston Herald, p. 22. 

Birke, J. (1999, October 31). Revamped Ely House hosts distinguished invitational. New Haven Register, p. D1.
Cash, D. (1999, March 20). Green Street offers intimacy and humor. The Boston Globe, p. F3.
Damsker, M. (1999, February 7). Edgy art inhabits Hartford foundry. The Hartford Courant, p. G5.
Rosoff, P. (1999, April/May). DD-MM-YY: An exhibition of contemporary art. Art New England, p. 37.
Rosoff, P. (1999, February 11). Extension cords and serendipity: Voila! Instant moveable art installation. Hartford Advocate, p. 22.

Artist Talks

2013 NURTUREart Non-Profit, Brooklyn, NY.

2012 LIM College, New York, NY.

2012 Rhodes College, Memphis, TN.

2008 Montserrat College of Art, Beverly, MA.

2001 School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Post-Baccalaureate Program, Boston, MA.

2000 Wentworth Institute of Technology, Boston, MA.