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 Beth Ellen Ames Swartz  (1936 - )

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Lived/Active: New York/Arizona      Known for: collage, mod imagery, desert landscape

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Untitled; and three companion watercolors (4)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in New York City and living most of her life in Paradise Valley, Arizona, Beth Ames Swartz is a multi-media painter inspired by her spiritual meditations as well as her desert surroundings, her Jewish heritage and the cultures of Native Americans and Asians.

In her mixed-media paintings and collages, described as having "multiple narratives", Beth Swartz has utilized oil and acrylic paint, glue, rocks and soil, colored pigments, silver leaf, mica, charred fragments, crumbled paper, gold leaf, candles and soot. Application devices include large brushes, her hands and fingers, paper towels, screwdrivers and a serrated knife.

Swartz grew up in a high-rise apartment in Washington Heights, and some of her earliest artworks reflected the views she saw of the city. It was a family of three children supported by her mother who was a secretary and her father who was first a science teacher and ultimately Assistant Superintendent of New York City Schools.

Encouraged in her talent by her family, she studied as a youngster at the Art Students League in New York City and then was accepted at the elite New York High School of Music and Art. She later credited this opportunity as the defining early part of her life where "art became a second language".

Swartz earned her Bachelor's Degree at Cornell University in art and education and began to explore the relationship between art and healing. She became a voracious reader, taught English, art and poetry at a junior high school and then earned a master's degree in art education from New York University.

In 1959, at age twenty-three, she married Melvin Swartz, an attorney, and moved with him to Phoenix, Arizona. She taught in the Scottsdale school system until 1964, when she decided to devote full time to her art talent as well as to her daughter, Julianne, born 1967, and son, Jonathan, born 1970.

To become comfortable with an unfamiliar new environment which she first found harsh and strange, she spent much time painting outdoors, and became increasingly bonded with nature, especially after a 1970 trip down the Colorado River of the Grand Canyon. Of this she said, "I felt the power of the rocks that existed for millions of years. They gave me a new feeling for the continuity of life. I wanted to be able to penetrate these rocks, enter in their soul and assimilate myself unto them (43).

Increasingly she expressed her feelings through abstraction, an influence dating back to New York City where she had been exposed to the theories of Wassily Kandinsky in his essay "Concerning the Spiritual in Art". He asserted that art can create a spiritual atmosphere, and it is from this perspective that one can judge art, good and bad. Another book that has had ongoing influence on her including the practice of regular meditation is "The Wisdom of Insecurity", which she read in 1968. Written by Allen Watts, he wrote of the mysteries of spirituality, of plunging into the unknown and focusing on the present to remain serene and free from anxieties.

In the early 1970s, Swartz did a Meditation series of wet-on-wet acrylic paintings on paper with desert mountains and skies depicted with "fluid bands of vivid color." Subsequently Swartz has retained her focus on spirituality and has also worked to connect her own Jewish heritage to her paintings. Her themes include water and death and fire such as "Smoke Imagery", which she created by holding paper over a candle and tracing the smoke patterns. To make fire paintings, she began with meditation, then unfurled large rolls of paper on the ground, marked the pieces with a screwdriver, burned it with a candle, and then added glue, colored pigments and earth. She built up the work with repeated layers while pouring water or ice over to contain the fire.

Inspired by the Red Rocks of Sedona and sands and soil of Hawaii, Swartz has also done Earth Art, much influenced in concept by Robert Smithson and his "Spiral Jetty". In 1980, she spent time in Israel, finding subjects and places that related to biblical and other historical women and to a God that embraced both femininity and masculinity. Granted permission, she created artwork from soil of sacred shrines to emphasize the connections between the material and spiritual worlds.

Ever working with multi-media including alchemicals, Beth Swartz began having health problems a benign tumor removed in 1980. Seeking a healthier lifestyle, she turned to Native American healing practices and subjects for her artwork and also explored the Hindu chakra system, a belief that good health results from the good flow of energy. In the mid 1990s, she had chronic fatigue syndrome and turned more deeply to meditation, which she credited with seeing her through this difficult time.

In 1988, Swartz co-founded the International Friends of Transformative Art, an organization that existed until 1999 and provided philanthropic grants for artists pursuing themes that combine the spiritual and the ecological.

In 1992, Swartz moved back to New York City for several years to be in the midst of the cultural stimulation of Manhattan and to give her work wider exposure through exhibitions. There she secured funding from the Rockefeller Family Fund for her Sacred Souls project, which was to find individuals who within the last 25 years had served as models for their own culture and societies. She said it also helped her make sense of her own life. Leaving New York, she traveled extensively in Southwest Asia but suffered ill health and returned to Arizona to reconnect with the desert landscape.

And ever expanding her subjects and mediums, Beth Ames Swartz follows her philosophy that "art must be directed to the improvement and refinement of the human soul." And she is dedicated to the simple philosophy of "keep moving"---the outward search ever prompted by the inner movement.

David Rubin, Arlene Raven and Eva Jungermann, "Reminders of Invisible Light"

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