The Moments "In–between":The Art of Erica Swadley

Erica Swadley is a visionary artist working in the tradition of William Blake, Odilon Redon and Morris Graves. Through monotypes, etchings, oil paintings, book arts and other media, she explores pathways through myth, the sacred landscape, and the numinous world.

Erica was born in 1940 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "My father was a cancer researcher," she says, "with a good skeptical, scientific approach to life’s mysteries and a natural quiet acceptance of who I was. He never seeded doubts that, as a woman, doors would not open for me. My mother was a commercial artist who gave up her career to be a full-time parent. I grew up primarily in Pennsylvania, with long summers on Cape Cod in New England, where my father did research at a small laboratory on the beach of North Truro. It was there that my love of wild nature and windswept landscapes was born."

After graduating from a small Swedenborgian high school, Erica attended the Rhode Island School of Design She was awarded a grant to spend her senior year studying art in Rome and Florence, Italy, and graduated with a BFA in Illustration in 1962. She then taught art history and applied arts at Bryn Athyn Academy & College in Pennsylvania — while taking graduate courses at Tyler School of Art, exhibiting in galleries throughout Pennsylvania, and raising two children: Kurt Rosenquist (now a painter in New York City) and Karin Rosenquist (now an architect in Tucson, Arizona).

"The Woman Clothed with the Sun"

In 1980, Erica’s life took a new direction when she left her art studio to become a practitioner of alternative healing methods. She trained with Puerto Rican and Nicaraguan curanderos and with Native American medicine people; her studies ranged from deep tissue and Japanese energy work to the shamanic use of drums and stones to access the body’s own healing powers. Shamanic studies (including those from her own Scandinavian heritage) led her into the realms of myth, folklore, folk medicine and animistic beliefs — all of which influenced her approach to painting when she returned to her art work seven years later.

"The interface of the spirit world with ordinary reality has always been easy and natural for me. As an artist, my work had always dealt with that terrain — yet it had remained somewhat conceptual until I began to do healing work, studying with medicine people from a variety of nations, cultures and traditions. In addition to these wonderful teachers, I’ve learned a great deal from the land itself — from animals, plants, rocks and the elements. Like my scientist father, a true lover of nature, I received a great deal of inspiration and information from the natural world. During those years in which I laid the tools of art aside, I discovered that healing work came from a similar source within me.

"Eventually my husband Virgil and I felt the need to leave Philadelphia. It was hard to leave our friends and our life in the East, but the desert called us. We gave away most of our possessions, set off into the great Unknown, and settled in Tucson, Arizona — where a job teaching art virtually fell into my lap. It was clearly time to go back to the studio once more. For five years I taught drawing, print–making and art history at Pima College, and then I left to pursue my own work in earnest. It was truly a trip into the desert, solitary and difficult. I was sustained during this time by a deep connection to the powerful, mythic Sonoran landscape. The desert and all its creatures had much to teach me: physically, spiritually, and creatively."

Erica’s major artistic influences are the paintings of Odilon Redon, Hieronymus Bosch, Morris Graves, Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, and Gustav Klimt; as well as the writings of Mary Oliver, Rainer Maria Rilke, e. e. cummings, Wallace Stevens, Rumi and Nathaniel Hawthorne (especially "Rappaccini’s Daughter"). A keenly felt sense of place has also been a strong influence in all her work: her love for Pennsylvania ("rolling hills, orchards, thickets, blackberry bushes, intensity of color, green rampant growth"); Cape Cod ("wild, wind swept, a borderland where earth meets sea, estuaries, ancient meandering streams, salt marshes, scrub pines, fog, mists"); Italy ("freedom; total immersion in dazzling light; a rich, old, burnished landscape"); and Arizona ("rawness of earth,vitality of space; passionate, palpable light and air; one can actually feel the creative thrust in spite or because of the challenge to survive; animal and plant spirits everywhere eager to communicate").