Dave Swensen (b. 1984, Des Moines, IA) explores the layering and placement of construction and industrial materials while emphasizing the principles of both modern and contemporary design. Often his distorted mirrored surfaces reflect back bouncing light and energy. Working with precision he creates a narrative using a minimal aesthetic that at times allows parts to become interchangeable or be reconfigured entirely. This flexibility in his work allows him to push his materials to their maximum potential. He has taken part in numerous solo and group exhibitions locally and abroad. Some of his most recent include: "Things That Pass" (2011) in Tauranga, New Zealand; "The Rising Tide" (2013) Anchorage, Alaska; "New Video" (2013) Chicago, Illinois; "Fountains" (2017) San Antonio, Texas where he participated in the artist residency program at Hello Studio Gallery.
In conversation with Freud Monk Gallery | 2019
To begin, could you tell me a little about yourself and your background?
Growing up in the Midwestern United States, I learned early on how to spend my time being creative. Spending my youth in a small town outside of Iowa’s capital, I spent a lot of time reading and making things. I’ve always enjoyed the act of planning a project just as much as the making. I would spend a lot of time planning out whatever I was trying to create. Daydreaming. I was never good at drawing so I would find other ways to achieve whatever I was doing. Going through school I enjoyed all the art classes that I took but it wasn’t until much later in life that my love for art took over. I developed an interest in graphic design first. While studying design I began to meet other artists. My world flipped and I soon felt like I was missing the big picture. My artist friends were so passionate. That passion really had an impact on me. I gave up the idea of designing behind a computer and started using my hands.
Describe your journey to becoming, (or identifying as) an artist. Has it been easy? Natural? What has been difficult?
I started out thinking I should be a painter. I tried to paint thinking that it would automatically be easy to find my own voice and style. There was no spark, nothing about painting at that point in time did anything for me. I had no love for it but what I did learn is that you can paint on different materials and you can attach various elements to a canvas or wood. I would paint on discarded pieces of wood and attach fabric and other elements building up the surface. It was during this time that I discovered I had a great interest in the artist Robert Rauschenberg.
While still working in mixed media I became friends with a low budget film director. He lent me his video camera and I did a few experiments with it. Video art was new to me on my journey and it blew my mind. I would continue to borrow the camera until I could finally afford one of my own. Having an interest in so many mediums has made my art career challenging. As I progressed, I began creating videos about sculpture and learned that I enjoyed using my hands and creating the sculptural elements as much as the shooting of the video. That led to focusing more on the sculpture as my main medium. I think just figuring out what you like and what likes you takes time.
How would you describe your work to someone?
I construct free-standing and wall based sculptures that are intimate in size. These works carry themes of abstraction, modern design, and minimalism and tend to be architectural in nature. I use elements of construction and building materials in my works that result in both smooth and porous finishes. I love bringing used materials that would normally not be highlighted together to make something beautiful. Constructed with minimal use of color, each work stems from a stripped down minimal approach that results in an emotional impact. Because my art is meditative to make, I hope it brings a sense of healing to the viewer.
What is important for viewers to note when viewing your work?
I want them to notice that it’s handmade. Although I am pushing for a clean sharp aesthetic, flaws and tool marks are welcome. These subtleties add a sort of hidden complexity that is created by the construction process. That sort of personality is something I cannot help but include in my work. I want the viewer to know the materials I use are fragile in nature.
What is your process like? How important is process in understanding your work? Sometimes I start out the process with some sketches, but most of the time things kick off by the act of just doing. I work at a quick pace, trying various assembly methods. I tend to not work with an agenda or complete work in a series. Where I move next depend purely on what I feel inspired to do.
I'm interested to know how you arrived at your choice of process, materials, and 'style?' How did this develop?
I’m interested in reclaimed and construction materials. They seem to come with a sort of personality that strikes me as useful. I started finding objects and materials that triggered something in me. Often times interested in a small section of their form or the abstract movement the material is making. I’m always looking at shapes and colors in my everyday life. Style and themes are developed over time, constantly evolving.
What does your work aim to say?
My creative process is a meditation for me. Working on and completing a piece is like one big inhale/exhale, a present moment of honest feeling and pure emotion manifested through me. My art is a therapeutic process. I’m interested in the feeling that my work provides to the viewer and how it resonates in the space that it is in. There’s no political statement or hidden agenda, just leftover energy in a compact form.
Can you highlight some of your influences and discuss how they have impacted your work?
I am interested in simplicity, color, and repetition and how those factors can be drawn out of construction and consumer materials. I am often reducing to a simple shape or concept. In those regards, I’m drawing inspiration from minimalist artists like Carl Andre. On projects where forms and textures are more pronounced, I might look to the sculpture of Cy Twombly or Eva Hesse for inspiration.
Where do you find inspiration?
Connecting with other artists on social media has been a huge inspiration to me. It’s great to see my peers progressing and achieving their goals on a constant basis. I am inspired by architecture and nature. Oddly enough people and human relationships play a part as well because there are a lot of repeated elements in my work that I think stems from our need to not be alone, to be social.
In your experience, what is the best thing about being an artist? What is the hardest thing about being an artist?
I enjoy the entire process of being creative. Sometimes just a great idea can be very gratifying. The best part is the feeling you get when you put something out into the world that you’re truly happy with. The hardest part is juggling creating while promoting your artwork and getting yourself out there.
If you were not an artist, what would you be?
It’s hard to imagine not considering myself an artist. To me, people make art in a lot of different ways. There is an art to making someone smile or the way you organize your house. It boils down to if you’re conscious of that or not. I would be involved in a creative field. I’ve always had a love for science and technology. I would probably integrate myself into that world. Creating tools to help others live better and fuller lives would be great. I would choose a profession that is impactful and meaningful.
What piece of advice would you give to a young artist?
Surround yourself with people who are supportive of your passion. These people might be what it takes to get you through discouraging times. Always keep trying new ideas no matter how odd they might seem. Lastly, connect with your local community and others who share your same passion. This network will continue to grow getting you where you want to be as an artist