Art Therapy: Checking In with Lisa Swerling

We at MiXX projects + atelier believe art can be a vital positive force during tough times like those we’re all experiencing across the globe right now. We want to use our resources to bring you a series of regular emails with inspirational and therapeutic content from our artists and more, aptly titled “Art Therapy.” This week, we’re checking in with another MiXX favorite, master of miniature, Lisa Swerling, to discuss her experiences and perspective from her California studio.

MiXX: First of all, how are you?

Lisa Swerling: I am doing pretty well thank you. What had felt extremely unnatural now feels relatively normal and borderline manageable (but not quite!).

M: So glad to hear your well! I can definitely relate to that mixed bag of feelings as we adjust to the “new normal.”

M: Have you found that the events surrounding the global pandemic we’re weathering have changed the nature of the work you’re making right now?

LS: For the first few weeks of the California lock down I couldn’t do any art at all. The immediate needs of those at risk in my local community was so epic and immediate, doing anything except trying to organise relief and safety for them felt wrong.

So I started helping a friend who had set up a local Nextdoor group called Good Fairy, matching volunteers and those in need. My art felt redundant, which was fine.  But when we started setting up a website to help with communication,  I suddenly had the brainwave that I could make miniature fairies to represent all the good things people were doing, and photograph them to make the site as friendly and positive as possible.

So I spent a while doing that, and it was really sweet and wonderful gluing wings onto various tiny figures. And you become aware of magic happening everywhere. Everyday activities, like walking someone’s dog when they have to completely self-isolate, becomes an act of great kindness. Or yoga classes being cancelled and then discovering Zoom, and suddenly you can do yoga in a class of hundreds of people all over the world. Health workers showing their incredible character and commitment.  So a kind of magic of invention, human connection and courage manifested and I was happy to be able to express that through my art.

M: Do you find any sort of solace in your creative process and making artwork? The amount of focus your medium requires must at least be an effective distraction!

LS: As things have calmed down and systems have been put in place that have taken away the urgency of helping others, I have managed to return to work.

Honestly art is not a distraction right now, it’s more a case of me making the time to ‘work’ as I have many more demands on my time than previously. I’m not complaining about the demands – it’s partly because my work circumstances have changed (all art fairs cancelled, galleries closed) but more because my values and priorities are changing. I make time to Zoom with friends and family, to walk up and down my VERY steep hill every day, to read a bit, to cook with my daughters, to try be a little help to others.

I also, in my art, am concentrating on making ends meet in a way that was not as pressurized before. So my ‘labor of love’ projects, like MiXX Cinerama, are taking a backseat to finding commissions and new sales channels.

M: Your work is such an amazing vehicle for sparking hope and inspiring solidarity in our shared human experience, it always brightens our days here at MiXX. In that vein, what do you think the role of art and artists is or should be in difficult times like these?

LS: Thank you for saying that. At first I thought no-one would ever buy art again, nor should they. Then, when the dust settled, it became clear that art can be a source of comfort and hope which is exactly what people need right now. Whether it’s music, dance, literature, poetry, a sparkly diorama 🙂 … Art keeps us sane!

And indeed one of my oldest designs “The world is a scary place but I have waterwings” has become VERY popular in recent weeks, because it allows people to feel the fear and vulnerability, but also the innate, ridiculous courage humans can manifest in difficult circumstances. Also, people are keen to capture an important part of their lives in an art piece, which my way of working allows. So I am making family portraits, wedding portraits, capturing memories, that people can have with them during the shelter-in-place and beyond.

We agree with Lisa – art does keep us sane. So click the link below to see more of Lisa’s amazing dioramas, and keep looking out for more Art Therapy in your inbox!