“My wife’s shoes, all women’s shoes, have a wonderfully decadent, fetish-y quality that I love, especially the high-heeled variety, they look dangerous and delicious at the same time,” explains Swenson. These particular paintings of shoes are lyrical. The viewer is uncertain whether the shoes are floating, falling or flying, but they make Swenson, and indeed the rest of us shoe-lovers, smile. They are delightful: feminine, joyous, new and shiny (and useful to boot!).
By comparison, the soldiers represent an opposing point of view. Painted from a set of actual toys, they are bought on-line, photographed and then represented much larger than life sized. “They are masculine, guy toys, war toys, stoic and sad, used and abused… They hold a consciousness that is all these things and also a little comic at the same time,” says Swenson, who has made them heroic, as though they were portraits of real men. Ultimately, these toys say something about war: the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual toll that fighting with guns and killing has on every soldier.
This is the first time the two series have been exhibited in the same space and as Swenson observes, “Male and female, masculine and feminine, this is the push-pull of society, this is the tension that I try to get to. This is what makes the world turn, and it makes it worth hanging around, just to watch the dance.” But the friction in these paintings runs deeper than gender. Perfunctory shoes become celebratory confetti and children’s toys become solemn icons of an uncertain future. It is a dance to be certain, but exactly who leads is anyone’s guess.