In 2016/7 customized denim jackets were trendy across social media. I came across one at Sneaker Exchange CPT, when one of the performers took the stage in a customized denim jacket and Nike Air Force 1s. Later, I found Nicole Swartz; a 23 year old University of Johannesburg graduate, was behind the art piece fit.
According to Nicole Swartz, art is for children
Before there was First Thursday as adults, there was the art fair at school…for some. As children, not all of us were fortunate enough to have art classes. Even less were encouraged to pursue a career in art through traditional means, like tertiary education. Not only was studying at the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Design and Architecture possible for Nicole, she wants to share that dream.
As most already know, South Africa’s national school curriculum is challenged. It’s no surprise that issues are exasperatedly worse in relation to the arts. “I believe that visual art, as a subject, is just as important in building the character and nature of a child,” Nicole shares candidly. For the young graduate, art is about creation, but more so about communication; and in her case the communication of the child.
“I want a child to feel like they can paint and be an artist, regardless of what the end result is of an ‘artwork'”.
Finding the medium from piece to piece
I first saw her work painted on material, and as she would have it painting is her favorite medium. From canvas, to glass, Air Force 1s, and more to come, Nicole Swartz’s opinion of paint is right up there with good music. “As soon as I learned how to paint, and mix color, and blend…create tone, I fell in love,” she rambled happily.
Finding the perfect match between material and paint came when she accidentally stained her favorite bright orange tracksuit. Her refusal to part with the garment resulted in the keepsake staying in her closet until she came up with the idea to paint over the stain. Nevertheless, more than making ‘making art,’ Nicole finds that fashion offers her work commercial viability.
The story line of “struggling artist” is one every member of the arts community actively tries to avoid. For Nicole, commissioned work through customized apparel has been a method of avoiding that struggle. For instance, on top of teaching art lessons to children, she has used her skills to collaborate with The Fix, a retail store, to customize denims at one of their store launches.
Finding the art in one’s self
“To be a sincere artist, an honest artist, you have to be self reflective,” Nicole explains. In an Instagram post, the young artist acknowledges how she uses herself as a muse. Her works on canvas often depict herself, or variations of herself, in relation to how she looks at her being in the context of current society.
While many fixate on the impact of a particular artwork, Nicole believes that intent of the artist is equally important. She explains using herself as subject matter as her directing the intention of her art directly from her own center. Where imagery around “beautiful” womxn generally reflects white (often tanned) women, with golden blond hair, perfect teeth, and a ‘killer bod’, Nicole’s artworks are far more raw than “cookie cutter perfect”.
Nicole is currently working on a project to exhibit in local galleries. While she will always teach art to younger people, she believes it necessary to be selfish with her work.