with Gio Swaby
Gio Swaby Embarks on an Exploration of Self-Love and Acceptance in Her Vibrant Textile Portraits
From minimal outlines in black thread, empowering portraits of Black women emerge in new large-scale textile pieces by Toronto-based artist Gio Swaby (previously). Vivid fabrics with an emphasis on florals dominate her new body of work titled I Will Blossom Anyway, on view now at Claire Oliver Gallery, emphasizing brightness, joy, and self-love. Centering on a number of self-portraits, her recent artworks reflect on personal identity, embarking on an introspective journey toward acceptance and compassion.
Swaby’s interest in textiles ties her to a childhood surrounded by the materials her mother often used in her work as a seamstress. She was born and raised in The Bahamas before moving to Canada, where she has spent most of her adult life, and she draws on conflicted feelings about a sense of belonging and navigating what she poetically describes as her “many selves.” She says, “I reflected a lot on my own path and started to recognize how many parts of myself exist in the in-between spaces.”
In her nearly-life-size self-portraits, the artist looks directly at the viewer yet always appears relaxed, embracing tranquil moments of rest. Loose threads occasionally abandon their outlines, dangling or wandering around the canvas as if they have a mind of their own, highlighting the never-finished process of growth, evolution, and self-understanding.
I Will Blossom Anyway runs through July 29 in Harlem and coincides with her solo exhibition Fresh Up at the Art Institute of Chicago, which continues through July 3. Find more on the artist’s website and on Instagram.
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Embodying Vibrance and Joy, Gio Swaby’s Patterned Portraits Celebrate Blackness and Womanhood
In Bahamian artist Gio Swaby’s colorful sewn portraits, an invisible yet integral thread comes in the form of an invitation to celebrate Blackness and womanhood. Through the language of textiles and pattern, her practice centers on accessibility and facilitating connection with the viewer. “I think about people like me and how I didn’t get into art or museums or anything until I was 19,” she tells Colossal, sharing that the historical exclusion of Blackness in art motivates her to make pieces that reflect individuality and joy in a mirror-like way.
The Toronto-based artist began working with sewing and textiles around ten years ago, and her use of the medium acknowledges the intersection of traditional craft and fine art, viewed through the lens of personal relationships. “My mother was a seamstress,” she says. “I grew up in that world, but I didn’t come back to it as an art medium until around 2013. I associated it with a special love between us, and I wanted to share that with the viewer, too.”
Sharing in connection and conversation is central to Swaby’s process, which involves sitting down with her subjects prior to beginning each piece. Most of the portraits represent women in her immediate circle of family and friends. “I already have a sense of who they are, but I learn more about them, and they learn more about me,” she says. The conversations lead to the selection of fabrics, which the artist chooses based on the individuals’ stories and personalities, with an emphasis on exuberant hues and bold designs. In self-portraits, she considers family histories and memories. She says, “I picked out a hummingbird print for my dad because I heard a story that when he was a kid, he was the only one in the neighborhood who could run fast enough to catch a hummingbird.”
In her larger portraits, Swaby incorporates sewing directly onto canvas as a drawing tool, outlining the contours of faces, hands, and hair. Loose threads dangle from the surfaces, suggesting the reverse—typically unseen—side of embroidery and the individuals’ sense of self being perpetually in progress. The titles of her concurrent, ongoing series imply dualities and connections. In New Growth, vibrant silhouettes celebrate Black hair while also alluding to a person who is thriving; Love Letter references a sentiment passed from one person to another—or perhaps even to oneself; and Another Side To Me recognizes the innumerable, intersecting facets of every identity.
Recently exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida, Swaby’s solo exhibition Fresh Up travels to the Art Institute of Chicago and will open on April 8. Find more of her work at Claire Oliver Gallery, on her website, and follow updates on Instagram.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.