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 Joseph F. (Joe) Sweeney  (1950 - )

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: pastel landscape, cityscape, and seascape painting, environmental

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Joseph F Sweeney
An example of work by Joseph F. (Joe) Sweeney
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted July 2004 and updated June 2014 is from the artist who works in oil and pastel:

"Joseph Sweeney's art is able to speak to moderns using the language of classical landscape painting which contemplates nature.  Sweeney's paintings demonstrate an enormous amount of thought, meditation, and intelligent planning. His simplicity is deceptive.  The artist's harmonious and balanced compositions actually continue the complex, classical tradition of landscape painting in our modern age."  CATHY VIKSJO Chester County Town & Country Living Fall 1999

Artist Statement:

"What I want my work to convey is an in depth personal exploration of the land, and my relationship to it. My work is simple and direct but still retains a certain sense of mystery that is inherent in all living things."

Born in Philadelphia, February 9, 1950, in the Delaware Valley, Sweeney began to study art seriously after serving two years in the navy in the North Atlantic. With the money from the G.I. Bill he attended the Philadelphia College of Art from 1972 to 1976.  He was moved to paint landscape after watching the land he grew up on go from rural farms to suburban sprawl in the space of 10 years.

Joseph Sweeney graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing from the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts), Class of 1976.  He studied with and was influenced by: Isa Barnett, Sandy Ceaser, David Kettner, Boris Putterman, Gerry Herdman, Jack Andrews, Ray Spiller, Morris Schulman, Warren Rorher, David Fertig, Jane Piper, Sidney Goodman, and Lily Yeh.

He has a Masters Degree from Penn State University, 1980, Art & Architecture, and studied with Bruce Shobaken, Diane Pepe and Peter Jogo. A landscape painter living in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, he has taught and is currently teaching classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The University of the Arts, Wayne Art Center, Woodmere Art Museum, Cabrini College and Chester Springs Studio.  His geographic ranges for his paintings are from the farmland of interior Pennsylvania, to the shores of the Delaware and Schuylkill River Valley, to the southern tip of New Jersey.

He was Awarded Best of Show at 'Images '98' Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts July 1998 and Best of Show for The Philadelphia Water Color Club 98th Anniversary International exhibition of Works on Paper. Following is a quote from the Water Color Club exhibition reviewer, Fred B. Adelson, of The New York Times, Sunday, October 19, 1998:

"The award for best of show was given to a truly exquisite pastel, Jack's Mountain, by Joseph Sweeney.  This picture of farmland in central Pennsylvania is a panoramic view (more than four feet wide) capturing the natural effect of early-morning light.  Mr. Sweeney's carefully observed cloud-filled sky recalls those by' Constable in-his 19th-century English landscapes.  The richly colored strokes of greens and blues with subtle touches of yellow appear as smooth as Bassett's ice cream.

Sweeney founded the Pennsylvania Center for Landscape Painting in Belleville, Pennsylvania, three and a half hours northwest of Philadelphia. Classes consist of weekend or week long stay at Hameau Farm for painting the Pennsylvania landscape outdoors. A primary purpose of the Center is to promote environmental education through the collaboration of the arts and sciences. From November, 2001 to January 30, 2002, Sweeney and other artists in the Center for Landscape Painting were featured at the Susquehanna Art Museum in an exhibition titled Scapes and Scrapes: Peaceful Pennsylvania Landscapes and the Best of Woodturning from Around the World.  As the founder of the movement, Sweeney was a special lecturer at the exhibition.

PERIODICALS

Nancy Bea Miller, "An Artist Changes Mediums", Fine Art Connoisseur, May/June 2011

M.S. Doherty, "Capturing Fleeting Scenes in Pastel", Plein Air Magazine, Summer 2011

Cover and article in American Artist Magazine, 2000 and 1984

SOLO EXHIBITIONS:

2013 Joseph Sweeney, New Work, Bermuda, Masterworks Museum, Paget, Bermuda

2010 Plein Air Paintings, Carbon County Cultural Project, Jim Thorpe PA

GROUP EXHIBITIONS:

2013
First Annual Large Format Art Show Philadelphia Sketch Club, Philadelphia, PA
150th Annual Exhibition of Small Oil Paintings Ph. Sketch Club Philadelphia, PA

2012
Salmagundi Club, Mood Indigo, New York, NY

2011
147th Annual Exhibition of Small Oil Paintings Ph. Sketch Club , PA (Award for Best Landscape)

2010
Plein Air for Camphill, Rosenfeld Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
Surviving Ourselves: Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, PA

147th Annual Exhibition of Works on Paper Phila.Sketch Club Philadelphia, PA (Second Place Award)

2008
Art of the State: Pennsylvania 2008, State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA

2007
"The Pennsylvania Landscape: Colonial to Contemporary", Haverford College, The Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, March 7-April 1.

2005 
“Old School, New School, No School". Carbon County Cultural Project.
 Jim Thorpe PA., 142nd Annual Exhibition of Small Oil Paintings

The Philadelphia Sketch Club Philadelphia, PA
Craft Forms, Wayne Art Center, Wayne PA
Works on Paper Show, The Philadelphia Sketch Club, Philadelphia, PA

2004  
Works on Paper Show, The Philadelphia Sketch Club, Philadelphia, PA
 “Art of the State”: Pennsylvania ‘04 Juried Exhibition, The State Museum of
 Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA
 Faculty Exhibition Wayne Art Center, Wayne PA

2003   
The Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. 106th Annual Exhibition Chester Springs, PA
The Unbroken Circle, Wayne Art Center, Wayne PA

2002  
Works on Paper Show, Philadelphia Sketch Club, (Best in Show), Philadelphia, PA
Fellowship of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. 105th Annual Exhibition
Catherine Gibbons Granger Award for Landscape, Chester Springs, PA
The Gamble Mill Show , Bellefonte, PA
Landscapes-Mindscapes Exhibition, LBI Foundation, Long Beach Island, NJ
139th Annual Exhibition of Small Oil Paintings, Philadelphia Sketch Club, The Irish Coast, Philadelphia,  PA

2000
Exhibition titled "Philadelphia: A Crossroads for American Art, 1750-2000" in The Union Club of New York, and Debra Force Fine Art, Exhibit

1998
98th Anniversary International Exhibition of Works on Paper, Philadelphia Water Color Club in Atlantic City, New Jersey; Krasdale Gallery, New York, "Best of Show." "Images '98" Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, state College, PA, "Best of Show."

1996
Wayne Art Center Juried Exhibition, Wayne PA. "Best of Show."

1986
Sechuan Fine Arts Institute, Chongging, China; Printmaking East/West Exchange, Tianjun, China.

The following is from Chester County Town & Country Living, Fall 1999

A R T: JOSEPH SWEENEY by Cathy Viksjo:

Joseph Sweeney's art is able to speak to moderns using the language of classical landscape painting which contemplates nature. Probably the one thing that people from all walks of life can agree upon is a good view. And Joseph Sweeney, 49, has painted hundreds and hundreds of them.

But he is far more than a calendar artist who turns out pretty but boring pictures, according to a formula. Mr. Sweeney's paintings demonstrate an enormous amount of thought, meditation, and intelligent planning.  His simplicity is deceptive.  The artist's harmonious and balanced compositions actually continue the complex, classical tradition of landscape painting in our modern age.

"My geographic ranges are from the farmland of interior Pennsylvania, to the shores of the Delaware and Schuylkill River Valley, to the southern tip of New Jersey.  This is where I feel at home; this is where I like to paint," said Mr. Sweeney, whose patrons come from Boston and Florida to collect his pieces.  And let's not forget the mood of Mr. Sweeney's landscapes.  They reflect a Zen-like equanimity with his surroundings that few painters have mastered.

"I like to think of my art as a quiet contemplation of nature. I have used landscape as a metaphor for my own search for balance," said the artist who lives in Ardmore with his wife, daughter and two sons. He graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and drawing from the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts), Class of 1976. He has a master's degree from Penn State University, Class of 1980, in art and architecture. Mr. Sweeney served in the U.S. Navy from 1969 to 1971 on a destroyer in the North Atlantic fleet. The artist has taught or is currently teaching art classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The University of the Arts, Wayne Art Center and the Woodmere Art Museum.

In Philadelphia, Mr. Sweeney has been represented by Gross McCleaf Gallery on South 16th Street since 1980. And more recently, his paintings can be found at Salon des Amies on Yellow Springs Road in Malvern.  Regionally, this contemporary realist has garnered considerable recognition for his art, as well as numerous awards. Other critics have written of his "striking and exquisite panoramic views" which possess a "majestic timelessness."

Just how he does this, of course, is the crux of the matter. In the history of art, Mr. Sweeney likes to quote Leonardo da Vinci who wrote, "Choose only one master, Nature." It was the French classicist Nicolas Poussin (1593-1665), not Leonardo, who formulated the golden means of landscape painting. An intellectual at heart, Poussin argued that the basis of landscape painting was to be found in the harmonious balance of the horizontal and vertical elements in the design, wrote the late British art historian Lord Kenneth Clark in his seminal study of landscape painting. Since landscape is essentially horizontal, Poussin introduced architecture or figures to balance his compositions. "It was essential to Poussin's design that his verticals and horizontals should meet at right angles," Clark wrote.

Like Poussin, Mr. Sweeney also looks for the underlying harmonies of nature, and arranges them into a logical composition. His ordered, balanced landscapes, mostly of central Pennsylvania, are characterized by a pronounced horizontal format. Mr. Sweeney organizes the compositional elements by arranging trees, farm buildings and people at right angles. This gives his art work its vertical complement. In his popular river scenes, again primarily horizontal, the positioning of the oars provide that necessary diagonal element into depth. Rowers too emphasize this feature.  Sometimes, he will take advantage of a winding diagonal path, or the patterning of shadows cast by the sun, to give his landscapes the illusion of depth.

Such is the case with Jack's Mountain, a "Best-in-Show" pastel in the 98th anniversary International Exhibition of Works on Paper, sponsored by the Philadelphia Water Color Club and held last fall in Atlantic City. It is one of the most pristine vistas in contemporary art.  A New York Times art critic described it as a truly exquisite painting that recalled the great landscapes of British painter John Constable (1776-1837), who revolutionized landscape painting in the 19th century by the powers of his direct observation.  It was Constable, with his fresh naturalistic vision, who set the stage for the optical discoveries of the French Impressionists. Constable once wrote, "I have never seen an ugly thing in my life."

Temperamentally, Joe Sweeney does have a strong affinity with the English painter, particularly in his chiaroscuro, that is, the contrasts of lights and darks. For Constable, this pattern of sunlight and shadows gave his landscapes a dramatic unity.  Mr. Sweeney's aesthetics are much the same.

He plans his outdoor observations in two-hour stints, catching as much as he can of atmospheric conditions before they change with the sun's movement in the sky. Said the artist, "Without light, there is nothing to paint for a landscape painter."

His descriptive powers are finely tuned.  Joe Sweeney delights in the pleasure of seeing, or recording visual data, just like a poet carefully penning his words. "When I'm painting, I'm taking notes. I'm writing with paint so I have a record of the landscape.  Every mark counts," said the artist who quoted Irish poet Seamus Heaney's dictum: "Landscape is sacramental; to be read as text." Joe Sweeney noted, "In looking at a landscape carefully, it is my belief that you can define the soul of a place. The experienced observer can determine the health of a place and its people just by looking at the condition of the land and its people."

Although he has absorbed several influences in the history of art, Mr. Sweeney has an entirely original and contemporary vision.  He is never imitative. At the close of our century, Joe Sweeney's environmental concern for preserving our open spaces is forcefully expressed in the delicate balance between man, architecture and nature in his artwork. With strip malls multiplying like rabbits and housing developments cropping up like weeds, there is good reason to be alarmed.

Said Mr. Sweeney, "I have been watching the landscape of Pennsylvania change for close to 50 years. At first, I didn't like it under any circumstances. But as the population grows, people have to go somewhere. The question is whether it is done in an unbridled fashion or is the growth done in a well-ordered intelligent plan. I vote for the plan," said Mr. Sweeney, citing Thomas Hylton's recent book, A Plan for Pennsylvania.

Joe Sweeney asks us to consider these issues by his in-depth exploration of the world around us. He gives substance to modern landscape. "By exploring my relationship as an individual to the natural world, I am looking for the answers to such questions as:  'How do we interact with the world around its . . . What are our responsibilities to it as caretakers and where do we fit in?' The answers to these questions are out there, we have to learn to see them."

Cathy Viksjo is a regional art critic who holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees in art history from Bryn Mawr College.


ADDITIONAL QUOTES: (Provided by the artist)

Joe Sweeney ...He has a sharp eye for the beauty of nature, which he finds in quiet and tranquil scenes showing nature existing in deepest harmony with man.
ARTFORUM, Ronny Cohen, Sept. 1989 (USA) page 147

In Painterly realism, unlike Photographic realism, the brush strokes and tactile surfaces become important! Estelle Gross speaking about the work of Joe Sweeney. THE ILLUSTRATED, Palm Beach, Candyce H. Stapen,  Regional Artists. Fall 1989, (Palm Beach FL)

The award for best of show was given to a truly exquisite pastel, Jack's Mountain, by Joseph Sweeney. This picture of farmland in central Pennsylvania is a panoramic view (more than four feet wide) capturing the  natural effect of early-morning light.  Mr. Sweeney's carefully observed cloud-filled sky recalls those by' Constable in-his 19th-century English landscapes.  The richly colored strokes of greens and blues with subtle touches of yellow appear as smooth as Bassett's ice cream. (Review of the Philadelphia Watercolor Club Works on Paper Show, The New York Times, Sunday, October 18 1998 Fred B. Adelson 'On the Towns' Art Review)  

Joe Sweeney, un-ostentatious landscape painter, follows his own expressive needs which in this case is contemporary realism. Sweeney show a deep receptivity to his source scene, yet manages not to end up with a reportorial look so much as an icon.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, July 18, 1999 Victoria Donohoe The Arts MD4

Joseph Sweeney is the ideal complement to the 19th century artist smitten by the Shore.  He focuses on ocean vistas and captures the immediacy of cloud-filled skies to recall Hamilton and his contemporaries.  In conversation, Mr. Sweeney acknowledged the importance of “being there,” working out on the sand.  Yet when asked if there was something special about the coastline at Atlantic City since he paints views from Barnegat to Cape May, he sheepishly but honestly acknowledged, “The site can depend on an invitation to a friend’s shore house.”  (The New York Times, Sunday, June 27, 2004  Fred B. Adelson, Arts & Entertainment  page 9, Art Review)





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