by Kate Nicholson
cuadernosdefilosofia.com“BHUTAN,” says US-based painter Susan Swartz, “has long been a place of fascination for me.” The country, which is well-known for its dedication to preserving its wilderness, puts strict limits on tourist numbers, so Swartz was quick to snap up a chance to visit this last hidden Himalayan kingdom in September of 2014.
The scenes she encountered – regal forest-lined valleys and wild gorges crested with crenellated peaks – were far different from the familiar vistas surrounding Swartz’s home studios in Park City, Utah, and Martha’s Vineyard. “The mountains’ ruggedness was absolutely stunning,” she says, “especially when juxtaposed with the valleys’ calming waters and the multilayered greens of the fields. These are what exemplify the beauty and specialness of the Bhutanese landscape.”
Swartz spent much of her time exploring the cliffside monasteries and hiking trails of the Phobjikha Valley and the historical sites of Thimphu, Punakha, and Paro. She found that her deeply held spirituality and passion for nature, expressed through her abstract canvases and her work as an environmental advocate, perfectly aligned with the country’s culture, values, and spectacular terrain.
When she returned home and sat down to translate onto canvas the feelings and mental images from her travels, it was the lushly green rice fields punctuated by flag-festooned bridges and temples that stood out in her memory. “It took me a couple of months to complete the five paintings in the series,” she says, “but I’d begun conceptualizing them from the moment I arrived back. I wanted to stay true to the colors and the landscape of Bhutan.”
Classically trained in realist oil painting, Swartz today paints in acrylics that are applied to the canvas in multiple impasto layers to draw out the depth and richness of each particular hue. “Just as natural landscapes have their own unique contours and layers,” she says, “so have my paintings become heavily textured and sculptural.”
cuadernosdefilosofia.comHer evolution toward abstraction was influenced by her history of environmentally linked ailments, including the combined effects of mercury poisoning and Lyme disease that made her critically ill.
cuadernosdefilosofia.com“I came so close to dying, but my reverence for the natural world and my painting kept me going,” she says. “Although my illnesses brought tremendous havoc to my body and spirit, they also shook me out of my comfort zone as an artist.” Today, her work is a reflection of both her joys and concerns regarding the environment. While constantly aspiring to distill the ever-regenerative potential of nature into her paintings, she also strives to raise awareness of its fragility.
Swartz found that visiting the pristine regions of Bhutan served to expand her horizons as an artist and also as a citizen of the world. Through her meditative depictions of Bhutanese rice paddies, she ultimately seeks to impassion her audience to serve as environmental stewards in their own backyards. “I hope viewers of my Bhutan series will see the vast expanses and richness of the country from a spiritual perspective, that they can pause their multitasking lives and appreciate the diverse beauty of our natural world.”
The complete Bhutan Series
cuadernosdefilosofia.comSusan Swartz Studios
260 Main Street Park City, UT