portrait Artist Interview: Spotlight on Ray Swirsky

by Ray Swirsky

Published in Issue No. 239 ~ April, 2017

Ray Swirsky

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It’s evident from the subjects that Ray Swirsky turns to the most that he is a lover of outdoor places. Inspiring scenes and beautiful creatures make up the bulk of his subjects. He considers himself a realist painter, and his inspiration for each new piece always seems to come out of nowhere.  “Composition,” he says, “is critical and what I consider to be the most important step towards the finished piece.”


He strives towards bringing a lifelike quality to his work by fusing fine details with soft edges, staying far away from sharp contrasting edges often seen from other realist painters while still trying to keep a loose, painterly feel. He uses many techniques, often blending colours on the canvas to create a natural range of neutrals as seen in nature, being sure to capture the transitions and subtle shifts in light and value from foreground to background throughout each work.


We caught up with Ray to learn a little more about his background, his process and his plans for the future.


What’s your backstory?

I was the youngest of seven children, born in Kimberley, a small quiet little town nestled in the Purcell mountains of British Columbia. Growing up in Kimberley had a great influence on what and how I choose the composition for my art work. It was only a few steps out our back door and I was swallowed up by forest. It was where my friends and I spent our summers from sunup to sundown, biking down the dirt trails and paths up to Lois Lake, building cabins that never got finished, playing hide’n’seek and shooting air rifles. We lived in the outdoors and is where my roots became firmly planted and still remain.

Where were you educated or trained, what did you study there?

After graduating from high school I relocated to Calgary, Alberta, to attend college where I completed my diploma in Electronics Engineering Technology. I spent many years following my graduation installing, repairing and maintaining banking equipment, working on just about every type, make and model of coin and currency handling machine from small desktop pieces to ones that filled an entire room. Fixing banking machines, with their enormous amount of fast moving small intricate parts, required skill and patience and at times deep contemplation to understand how things move and worked together as one giant piece. All those parts, so finely tuned to the exact angle, position and speed to me was art in itself and I find a similar correlation on how my own artworks come together starting with separate shapes and colours, merging and changing slowly, each shape finely tuned until they mesh together into one final composition where all the pieces work together as one.

What do you do now, and what projects are you working on putting together in the future?

I love to do landscapes and nature, but as a new artist I am trying to always challenge myself so I push myself every other painting to undertake a composition that is outside my comfort zone. The piece titled “Inferno” with the water bomber above a raging fire is a good example of this. From the reaction and response I received from this painting I am working on putting together a series of about ten different paintings all based on images and scenes originating from the raging fires that destroyed the town of Ft. McMurray in the spring of 2016.

I will soon be working on one large piece for a local musician and a portrait of someone very special, both very different than my usual landscape theme and both challenges I am looking forward to.

Currently I am working on a series of varying birch tree scenes, each uniquely different in composition location, season, lighting and weather.

What is your personal philosophy, and how–if at all–is it reflected in your artwork? What artists are you influenced by, and what would you say your work is characterized by?

My goal in every piece I create is to give an honesty and truth to each painting. It’s not just a shape or an image I am recreating, but an entire composition where I am attempting to have the viewer experience a moment of wanting to be in the painting looking out at the scene before them. I want realism in my paintings yet I want the painting to remain loose and painterly, a concept that almost contradicts itself and one that for me is difficult to achieve at times. The horizon is always dull, smokey, misty, faded and subdued and the foreground is richer in hue and with more detail. It is these constants that I use to bring truth to my paintings.

I have many influences but I don’t try to imitate any of them. As a young man, It was the works of Robert Bateman that first caught my eye and lured me into wandering galleries. Of all the works I saw, in all the galleries I visited it was always Bateman’s that made my stop and stare. I have many other influences since then, JS Sargent and Tom Thompson (Group of seven). Sargent’s work is nothing like mine in composition but it was the way he worked with light and handled detail that I like. How Thompson used colour is captivating and I often find myself looking at some pieces that look simple at first glance but they are truly not that simple. It is the skill with which he manipulated the medium that seemed to simplify structure yet bring a variety in colour and texture forward.

What mediums do you use most often and what about these draw you in?

I work with oils exclusively. At the moment there is so much more I want to accomplish with oils before I move into another medium. I expect my first stray away from oils will be into watercolours.


Learn more about Ray Swirsky’s work (including his novel, Extreme Malice) online www.reswirsky.com, and be sure to follow him on Facebook (Ray Swirsky) for news about and sneak peeks at his newest work.