Art more play than pay for broadcaster Linda Swain

Joan Sullivan
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Linda Swain's mini-show, "East/West, "contains about a dozen new pieces, landscapes in mostly oil pastel on black paper, although there are some watercolours. It's her second commercial show in Newfoundland, and she's also exhibited in Montreal, where she studied art at Concordia.

Swain, of course, is widely known as VOCM's "Nightline" host and one of the station's radio journalists. "I realized that art doesn't pay!" she joked. More seriously, "I wanted to come back to Newfoundland, and in Carbonear, where my family is from, there was a radio station and I knew they had an opening, and that was VOCM.

Linda Swain's mini-show, "East/West, "contains about a dozen new pieces, landscapes in mostly oil pastel on black paper, although there are some watercolours. It's her second commercial show in Newfoundland, and she's also exhibited in Montreal, where she studied art at Concordia.

Swain, of course, is widely known as VOCM's "Nightline" host and one of the station's radio journalists. "I realized that art doesn't pay!" she joked. More seriously, "I wanted to come back to Newfoundland, and in Carbonear, where my family is from, there was a radio station and I knew they had an opening, and that was VOCM.

"But art has always been my passion. Ever since I was able to pick up something and make a mark with it."

Swain's radio work keeps her very busy. Given time, "I'd like to be at bigger pieces, conceptual pieces. I'd like to work bigger and looser. Although smaller pieces can be jewels. They force the viewer to come in closer. It's like perfume, which should just draw you in."

On a recent trip to London, she saw an exhibit of Rembrandt etchings, "and they were so tiny, so detailed, and so human. Bigger pieces can be overwhelming - like the big box stores. Sometimes you find surprises in little pieces."

Swain loves the work of Egon Schiele. "That's the kind of work I was doing for a long time, portraiture in that rough, sketchy, strangely disturbing way." She started working in oil pastel on black paper after seeing what Scott Goudie could get out of the process. "You saw the colour on the page. The white paper sucks it in. But the black paper makes it pop." Her works are full of natural colour, applied in swift, articulate marks, evoking the contours and configurations of the cliffs, oceans, rocks and wildflowers that are her subjects here.

Swain prefers drawing to painting, as it allows for more control. She works quickly and intensively, calling herself "a binge artist." She'll go for a lengthy period without creating anything, and then, like during the past winter when she "felt so cooped up - boom - I'd make 25 works in four or five days. If I had time I'd be more disciplined. But when I do produce, I do produce a lot."

The theme and title of "East/West "comes from Swain's travels in Newfoundland and England (she was curious to visit there as her family lineage traces back to the West Country), and the unexpected similarities she found between the landscape, architecture, the people's speech patterns and even their sense of humour here and there. A work showing Land's End in Cornwall looks like it could be the coastline outside the entrance to St. John's harbour, "except for the heather. But they were probably joined together millions of years ago."

"Every now and then (in England) I would see images and think I'd seen them before. I felt very comfortable leaving my hotel and walking around in London. I wouldn't in New York. In New York you need your buddies."

One big difference she experienced was England's role in international politics, particularly its encounters with international terrorism. Swain was there when a police sweep arrested a dozen people suspected of planning to bomb planes; Heathrow was closed, people were warned against travelling, and the newspaper front pages were full of diagrams showing when the bombs were supposed to be planted.

"I was painting at Land's End, which is beautiful and serene, and then RAF (Royal Air Force) fighter jets would go by every five or 10 minutes." The juxtaposition has stayed with her and she hopes to develop work derived from that.

For now, she'll keep working at her own pace, often working from photographs and in strong, natural, bright daylight, and subject to the sudden desires that can take her in unforeseen directions. She once woke up and decided she had to go to Fogo Island (a place she'd never been) that very day.

"I didn't plan it all at. Thank goodness there was gas in the car." Once there she battled some ferocious winds and returned with some views that can be seen in this show.

Like many of the pieces, it is framed in a manner that allows the black paper to float in the centre. Swain likes the viewer to see the edge of the paper "how its ripped and torn, and so they can see that it's handmade."

It is part and parcel of her preference to see the artist's hand in a work, "to see the artist's hand at work in a work, through the layers of paint, even a little sloppiness, things like that that let you see what's going on."

"East/West" opens at The Pollyanna Gallery Sunday, and runs to May 29.

Organizations: Royal Air Force

Geographic location: Newfoundland, London, Montreal England Carbonear New York Cornwall St. John's Heathrow Fogo Island

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