Aside from a brief lapse in focus as a 5-year-old who wanted to be a cheerleader, Havre-native Carly Swenson has always wanted to be an artist and starting next week visitors to Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art in Great Falls will get to see where her lifelong artistic ambition has taken her.
While working toward her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Bemidji State University in Minnesota, Carly worked with a variety of art mediums — graphite, India ink, acrylic inks and paints, oil paint, gouache, pastels, darkroom photography, digital photo manipulation and printmaking techniques. She generally uses them all, plus found objects, combined together in her mixed media artwork, making her canvases slightly three-dimensional and begging to be touched — which she actually encourages viewers to do.
Carly’s show in Great Falls, “Sonhos Melancolia,” or “Melancholy Dreams,” will showcase her talents behind the camera lens, though, with 24 framed photographs that capture a special kind of beauty she has found at her latest home: the Azores island chain that lies in the Atlantic Ocean roughly 930 miles from the coastal capitol of Lisbon, Portugal.
“Terceira is a stunning island. Anyone interested in photography will find a plethora of subjects worthy of photographing,” said Carly, who finds inspiration from sources as varied as music, history, other artists and social, cultural and environmental issues.
“For me, I am most drawn to the abandoned structural spaces,” which, she said, Terceira has many to explore — remnants of the waves of immigration by people from different cultures over the centuries.
Though it would seem that the nicest thing to say about utterly derelict buildings is that they are an eyesore, Carly captures colors, the play of light and shadow, and the hints of stories left by the people who once inhabited these forgotten spaces that are being won over again by nature.
“I know part of my interest with these neglected structures is, from an artist’s perspective, the captivating allure of nature breaking down human constructs. I admire how nature seems to have an unlimited ability to reclaim itself,” she said. “The evidence of human occupancy is also appealing — the little traces of the human lives that had their own histories and stories, that I will never know.”
A 2002 Havre High School graduate, Carly ended up in the Azores when she transferred to Lajes Field Air Base on Terceira with her husband, Master Sergeant Casey McKinney, another Havreite. They will be stationed there until April 2014.
While Carly says Montana “will always hold a special place in my heart,” she hopes she and Casey will be able to continue to transfer to bases abroad because being able to live in other places, within those cultures, for an extended period of time is invaluable to her artistic growth.
“Traveling abroad has exposed me to such a tremendous amount of art, architecture and cultural opportunities. It would be naive of me to think my art would have progressed in the same manner had I remained in Montana, or even only within the U.S.,” she said.
She has had three art exhibits since arriving on Terceira and more planned for the remainder of this year, including a group exhibition with local Azorean artists in early August during PraiaFest, a week-long celebration in the coastal city of Praia de Vitoria which she said includes parades, foods, live music, traditional dancing, marching bands and street bull fights, attracting people from the various islands and the European mainland.
In September, a solo exhibit of her “Ancient Gods and Contemporary Circumstances” series will be on display for a month in the Portuguese Officer’s Club on Lajes Field.
Carly's show "Sonhos Melancolia" will open Tuesday and run to Dec. 14. She will be speaking at the opening, which is 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art and will have time to meet with attendees.