Expanding Horizons by J.J. Swanson at Paragon

One of my favorite local artists, Joel James (J.J.) Swanson, will display his work at Paragon on State from late July to September, with an opening reception July 25. Swanson’s work shows themes of dream-like environments that perhaps the viewer has never seen in reality, but witnessed somewhere in the subconscious. Titled Expanding Horizons, the display includes about 50 new works of oil on canvas that should brighten Paragon’s atmosphere and add a dimension of organic growth and natural form.

The best way to describe Swanson’s work would be through the artist’s own words. As he wrote in his artist’s statement: “The paintings are vivid, brightly colored landscapes. They offer the viewer an imaginary or semi-realistic place to escape. I use contrasting colors to draw in the viewer. The colors and textures of the work are a reflection of my mood at the time. I feel that each piece is an extension of my essence coexisting with its own separate identity and significant place in existence.”

When artistic works are described as “horizons,” generally the impression can be gotten that these pieces are for motels and cheap apartment lobbies. Somehow Swanson has managed to escape that particular rut, and has the talent to create spaces and environments that truly represent the imagination of the Midwest. A few of his pieces nabbed my eye at The Artery a while back when he was still using acrylics, and the balance and contrast of his colors inspired an almost déjà vu—as if the places he painted were located in the depth of the viewer’s mind. If those were the feelings Swanson could inspire two years ago, imagine how much more visual power he can have amassed by this time.

What also makes Swanson an artist to be celebrated by the community is that his representations appear to depict truly Midwestern scenes: winding rivers with thick foliage and trees, hints of blues, golden yellows and greens etc. So few artists accept their time, location and heritage and rather focus on exerting some sort of pretentious and inorganic ugliness on the public for shock value (like the guy who made the machine that synthesized its own fecal matter and then freeze dried it for public sale). There is a natural music to Swanson’s work, a fluidity of motion that can be soothing or provocative, and it will last a long, long time.

Swanson is a Guilford grad with an A.A. from Rock Valley College. Currently he is an account executive at Rockford Consulting and Brokerage, but still finds time to be locally involved with the artistic community—which is impressive considering he’s only about 25 years old. He has shown his work at various galleries locally and has worked in conjunction with Young @ Art, Rockford Area Arts Council, The Art Guild of Rockford and the Artist’s Co-op. Presently, his works can be seen at The Village Art Gallery in Stewart Square. The artist’s reception for Expanding Horizons will be from 5:30-9 p.m., Friday July 25, at Paragon on State, 205 W. State St. You can meet Swanson and check out the live music that Paragon always offers on Friday nights. Partial sponsorship of the show comes from Fast Frames, who donated a couple frames for the artist’s work. The show will run through September.

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