Artist's creations push boundaries SOUTHWEST -- Mount Airy * Woodbine * Taylorsville * Winfield

EXPANDING THE FRAMEWORK

February 26, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

Twelve years ago, William Swetcharnik began painting a series of works exploring classical and romantic themes. He also began studying the painting's relationship with its frame.

The result is a collection called "Vanitas Fare" that combines elements of sculpture, architecture and text. Mr. Swetcharnik's work will be on exhibit next month at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown.

The traveling exhibit, which has been displayed at museums in Newport News, Va., and in Wenham, Mass., is a triumph for the Mount Airy resident, who withdrew from his work with commercial galleries six years ago to devote full time to his talent.

"This is the first time everything has been gathered together on this type of scale," says Mr. Swetcharnik, who paints in a studio in a converted barn in rural Frederick County. "[Washington County] is not a well-known museum but it's a little gem."

Mr. Swetcharnik has organized the work spatially, displaying different themes within his art in various formats. None of the work will be hung on walls. Instead, some of his art will be suspended from the ceiling; other pieces will be exhibited on free-standing displays.

"His work is very contemporary," says Chris Shives, the museum's administrative assistant. "His work is something different for the museum. Most of our work is decorative art or 19th- and 20th Century American landscapes."

Ms. Shives says Mr. Swetcharnik was selected by the museum because "he's an area artist whose work is becoming very prominent."

"We look to exhibit local artists who are doing well," she says.

The exhibition will be in two phases. During March, it will consist of several hundred works on paper, paintings and sculpture. The exhibit opens with a public reception at 3 p.m. on March 7. In April, only some large works will be on display.

Mr. Swetcharnik says his collection is far from finished. He is working on 10 to 20 paintings "in different stages of completion." The "entire project" will take at least 30 years to complete, he says.

"This project will occupy me for a long time to come," he says. "It's really only a beginning. There will be a very large number of works that will create this larger environment of pieces."

"Vanitas Fare" contains a series of "shell and stone" still-life compositions -- the shells represent life's beauty and fragility while the stones symbolize life's harsher elements. Other works are more complex, containing fragments of mythology and dreams.

Mr. Swetcharnik has made frames an integral part of his paintings. In some cases, he has designed his own, extending the painting right into the frame.

"The frame is clearly an extension of the painting," Mr. Swetcharnik says. "Nowadays, we use frames as a decorative bridge between the painting and the place it's displayed. It wasn't always that way."

Mr. Swetcharnik does most of his painting in a second-floor studio of the turn-of-the-century barn he and his wife, Sara Morris Swetcharnik, also an artist, have turned into a home. The barn is on a two-acre tract, nestled among the ravines of southeastern Frederick County near Mount Airy. The farm has been in Mr. Swetcharnik's family for years.

"It's nice to work as an artist," the 41-year-old says. "I can listen to traffic reports and realize what I'm missing. I commute upstairs to work."

The Swetcharniks support themselves by doing portraits, commissioned works and grants. They recently visited Spain on Fulbright Fellowships for creative work and independent study. Mr. Swetcharnik studied Romanesque art, architecture and painted.

Of painting, he says, "It's just like playing. It's like being a kid and playing in a mud puddle, creating things. I have the luxury of being an artist."

When Mr. Swetcharnik isn't painting, he picks up a hammer and works on the barn -- still not completed, he says -- walks or visits art museums to study art.

Mr. Swetcharnik was born in Philadelphia and has studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, the University of California at San Diego, the Maryland Institute College of Art, Towson State University and the Schuler School of Fine Arts in Baltimore.

His work has been exhibited at regional museums and colleges, including the Maryland Art Place, Baltimore; Mount St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg; and the Cork Gallery of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

For more information on the exhibit, call the museum at (301) 739-5727. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.

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