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Portrait of a Portrait Artist
The Many Faces of Jason Swain    

Fueled by a creative blend of his Australian roots (now firmly planted in Kensington), love of nature from mountains to ocean, and an artistic expression that is in his DNA, Jason Swain’s experiences live and breathe in his work. You can see vibrant, distinct colors in his portraits and even a touch of aboriginal flavor in his sculptures.

Whether an 8,000-pound chainsaw sculpture or a tender portrait of a child, Swain has an eye for detail. Subjects range from former President Clinton (who sent Swain a personal note thanking him for the painting) to Redskins’ football players. His animal portraits, ranging from the family dog to horses, provide Swain with a constant flow of commissions. He also paints detailed portraits of children and families by working from photographs of his subjects.

In addition to his commissioned paintings, Swain’s art has won awards at the Montgomery County Fair, including the Best-in-Show ribbon in 2000. In his spare t ime, Swain has hosted his own cable television show, “Living with Animals,” that he describes as “a kind of small-scale ‘Wild Kingdom,’ featuring wild and domestic animals.”

There are some artists
who can paint.
Others show their talent
in sculpting. Some have
an eye for landscapes
and others focus
on portraits.
When it comes
to Jason Swain’s art,
all of the above apply.

Q: Growing up in the small beach town of Mooloolaba in Australia, you became an avid surfer. You describe your love of the sport by saying, “There have been times of both exhilaration and sheer panic in 25 years of surfing.” What causes you exhilaration and panic when you paint or sculpt?
A: Exhilaration can come from nailing a tough section of an art piece, or from finding a certain color combo in a painting or a unique wood grain in a sculpture that makes that piece stand out from other pieces. Panic comes from getting halfway through a sculpture and finding that the wood wants to split where you don’t want it to.

Q: Do you consider yourself an Australian artist or an American artist?
A: I tend to lean towards the Australian part of my culture, because that is where most of my influences came from.

Q: How has relocating to the United States changed your artistic perspective and subjects?
A: Moving to the U.S. definitely changed my subject matter. As much as I like to do what I please, I also realize that I need to sell work and that means seeing what each area likes and producing pieces that sell, but with your own style applied to it.

Q: What is it about your portraits of humans and of pets that make them unique or special?
A: My portraits are mostly traditional in style. I like to make them as realistic as possible but add a little bit of an impressionistic feel to the texture of each canvas. I have the knack of being able to capture a certain personality in each portrait that people can relate to.

Q: Is a face a face, or is an animal’s portrait different than a human’s – from an artist’s point of view?
A: When tackling a portrait, I tend to look at them as shapes in the beginning but refine it as I go along. Animals are far more forgiving as you don’t have the extra work of blending skin tones. Nonetheless, you still have to portray a certain character in each subject. People portraits are far more tedious, and you have more facial expression to deal with.

Q: What is your favorite piece?
A: My favorite piece is one I painted some years back of a cowboy giving his horse a bath in a lake. It just had such a great composition and feel to it, and the lighting was very striking.

Q: What was your most difficult piece to paint?
A: My most difficult piece was probably the large portrait I did of Washington Redskins’ Sean Taylor. It was a collection of different times in his career and the uniforms took weeks to get the details and different folds in the material. Plus, it had him in different action poses, so lots of minute muscle details.

Q: As a born-and-raised Australian, why are you drawn to football and specifically the Washington Redskins?
A: I do follow the Skins as I can’t see much rugby, so NFL is the next best thing. I figure you support the local team. Plus, I have had the chance to get to know some of the players. A custom-painted jacket I designed was a personal collection piece of RGIII′s first touchdown. It was done on a Carhartt jacket using oil paint.

Q: How did you become interested in chainsaw sculptures?
A: The chainsaw sculptures I started doing about six years ago. I used to whittle wood when I was a kid and got tired of seeing all this lovely local wood going to waste, so I started messing around with my chainsaw, doing mostly birds and bears.
My largest piece was an 8,000-pound oak log carved into four bald eagles. My technique for carving is to begin by cutting out a general shape and keep shaving it down so that way I don’t cut something off that I wasn’t supposed to be cut off. Later, I sand the piece, burn color into it with a blowtorch and then varnish it.

Q: What is your latest project?
A: My latest project is painting the portraits of all the Australian soldiers that were killed in action in the Afghanistan war. These portraits are being sent to the families of the fallen soldiers.

Q: Where will Jason Swain art be in five years from today?
A: Five years from today, I hope to be back near the ocean with my surfboard waxed up ready to hit the water. I also want to be painting fulltime and hope to set up a nonprofit organization involving my portraits as a means to make a living as well as make a difference in peoples’ lives by being able to donate artwork to individuals who deserve it. I tend to steer away from galleries, but in the future I might do some shows and ally with a gallery to sell some works.


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