Conversation with Artist Lorenzo Swinton
By Jay Sanchez
November 16, 2022
Artist Lorenzo Swinton is a creative genius who’s been actively immersed in a therapeutical creative journey. For the last 5 years, he’s consistently found inspiration via his surroundings while sharing his inner struggles in the process. The Bricolage Art Collective Award-winning creative has been infusing conversations with gallery styled creations, and contemporary work reminiscent of the Harlem Renaissance. For the last couple of years, he’s been sharing his vision at places like The Vanguard Nashville and 100 Taylor Arts, making a name for himself in the local art community.
I recently had the absolute privilege of chopping it up with Lorenzo Swinton surrounded by his powerful solo show “Outsider” currently on display at The Forge Nashville. Our conversation took us on a journey where we touched on mental health, the art of troublemaking, a musician’s creative journey, and the beauty of creating our own family. Turn on your Tidal or Apple Music to Thelonious Monk; press play and let the conductor flow.
Raw, Uncensored, Unapologetic
“Fight harder, just create”
Jay Sanchez: Allow me to first thank you for taking the time to chop it up with me late on a Friday night. A total pleasure to have this conversation in the middle of your exhibit here at The Forge Nashville.
Lorenzo Swinton: The pleasure is all mine bro. I’ve been reading NumberInc Magazine for some years now which makes this moment very special to me. So special, that we’re going to toast with this bottle of Rye Whiskey to you and your platform.
Jay Sanchez: Oh shit! I’m going to need some ice first homie…
Lorenzo Swinton: I got you bro.
Jay Sanchez: A toast to you brother, salud… Oh wow, “This isn’t bad at all.” As I savor this drink let’s get to it bro. I’d like to commence this conversation in the now; as I look around these beautiful pieces I sense a very powerful energy. Give the reader more insight on your solo exhibit Outsider. Take us to the inspiration and process of putting this extraordinary exhibit together.
Lorenzo Swinton: Having the opportunity to display my work in The Forge, and to also be selected for a residence in this space as a creator means the world to me. “My artistic approach has always been prone to creating inside the four walls of my solitude.” I’m creating as an introvert and recluse, with the absolute goal to not be associated with anything else. It was important for me to create a body of work that represented what all of us go through daily.
Jay Sanchez: Can you please elaborate more on that statement?
Lorenzo Swinton: Yeah, absolutely! Outsider represents the mentality of how we exclude ourselves and are also not in the popular areas of society. I wanted to reach out to the many souls all around who find themselves a total outsider to the world. I created this exhibit as an avenue to subjectively touch and reach with the basis of internal feelings, and anyone who’s in a box looking outwards. The artistic process is inspired by the thoughts rotating in my mind for a long period of time, but also the results of holding them in for so long.
JS: How does the gallery facilitate this process? Why is your collaboration with The Forge an important factor in this process?
LS: The beautiful conversations that I had prior to this show with the amazing leadership in this gallery were very therapeutic. These conversations helped me release that pressure valve in my head. This allowed me to not only put this show together, but also create some pieces that further the conversation on previous works. As you can see, I have pieces from “The Neo Jazz Collection” and “The Connoisseur Collection” hanging on these walls.
JS: Is this your first solo show?
LS: Yes sir. The first of many, I hope. After 5 years of consistently creating, I’ve been given the absolute opportunity to share my work on a grand scale.
JS: Is this what you always envisioned as a young creative?
LS: Whoa! I never really thought about that. That was a long ass time ago bro.
JS: Can you take the reader to that period when you find your creative beginnings? Paint us that image, sculpt us that setting?
LS: Even then, I can see how relatable Outsider is to those early beginnings. From the moment momma gave me permission to draw on the walls, I was hooked bro. Drawing and creating was my approach to finding a passage of acceptance with those around me at a young age. As a kid you feel like a million bucks when your talent is celebrated. It also was a way for me to escape from the reality that made my everyday life. I’m originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Grew up in a home where my father was nonexistent, I’m the middle child stressing to protect my sisters, and mom is carrying a heavy load taking care of us. Fitting in was very important to me when I was young. Art was my unique approach at fitting in even in my early adolescence, I was drawing and sketching some dope pieces man. I really enjoyed drawing other individuals back then.
JS: You’ve been active for a long time bro. Seems like those challenging early years were very inspirational in your journey as an artist. Was that the same approach in your teenage/young adult years?
LS: Actually, midway through my teenage years that all took a backseat. I put art on the shelf and fully immersed myself in music.
JS: Oh wow… Your creative approach took you in an entirely different path.
LS: Yes, it did bro. The music took over my entire creativity for approximately 10 years. During this time, I see myself as a conductor wanting to create the dopest sounds and write the most beautiful lyrics. Shit really started making sense when my beats began selling, the confidence that created within had me all in. I remember my mom wanting to take piano lessons, but because her schedule always revolved around work that never happened. That was a big point of inspiration for me. My peers in the music scene were really feeling my vibe and what I had to offer, this again created this greater feeling of acceptance.
JS: What was a source of inspiration musically speaking during this time?
LS: The first album I ever bought really open the flood gates for me. I went to a mom and pop shop and bought Ghostface Killah “Supreme Clientele” and that took me straight to that east coast New York vibe. Artist like Wu-Tang Clan, AZ, Beanie Seagal, Nas… These different elements were really giving me a unique approach to this music I was creating. Those around me were also giving me an inspirational energy that not only inspired the music, but also started to get me in a lot trouble.
JS: How old are you at this time? What exactly was creating conflict around you?
LS: I’m 17 or 18 at this time. I started getting caught up trying to match the energy of others, me trying to fit in was starting to become exhausting at the same damn time. The wrong crowd became my new family, mom could no longer steer me in the right direction. Honestly, getting in trouble became the new normal for me. Life just took a very dark turn for me during those years, looking back I was really fucking up. “Mom, I’m sorry for putting you through all of that back then.”
JS: From experience, I can totally see how things were going to end bad if a change wasn’t made. What changed in order to get you back on track?
LS: My sister was stationed at Fort Campbell during that period of time. I moved in with her to start out fresh. Eventually after a few hiccups, life started trending in the right direction for me. I graduated from High School, lived life to the fullest for a few years as a young adult. In my early to mid 20’s I got super serious with my music. I was recording, producing, and performing locally in Clarksville and Nashville. I decided to go all in by printing copies of my records and hitting the road.
JS: That’s dope bro, you’re hitting the road to go on tour?
LS: Not quite. I jump in my car and drove my ass to New York, Virginia and other cities in various states. The goal was distributing my music to various places and individuals. “I was literally passing out copies of my music to labels and strangers, I told myself if something is going to pop off it will come from this.” I went to various radio stations; sleeping in my car just attempting to make something happen. Needless to say, shit did not work out for me musically bro. “Now I am asking myself, what’s next?”
JS: I admire your hustle bro! You took a leap of faith, and truly believed in yourself at this point. What you did took a lot of guts my dude. After everything that’s transpired, were you still heavily invested in your music? Are you painting during this time?
LS: Not at that moment. Life was a struggle, and I was just trying to figure out my role in this world. I was living in a motel during this time. All the sudden depression and anxiety took me for a fucken ride bro.
JS: Are you saying your mental health became a major factor at that time?
LS: My mental health was always a factor; I just didn’t know it up until that point. I hit rock bottom bro, became a fucken prescription pills guinea pig. I’m literally in the hospital seeking help, I have this feeling of me not belonging, doctors couldn’t do anything for me… This went on for a year man. One day I’m out at hobby lobby, I see a canvas… Something just hit me, I hadn’t drawn or painted in approximately 10 years. I am 26 at this time. “My mind told me to get the canvas, get the paints, get the supplies… I painted for a long period of time that day; the green, the reds, and the emotions snapped me back to reality. The depression, the anxiety, it all became less at that point. “The medicine I needed all along was creating.” This moment inspired two pieces that pushed me in a different direction as a creative. It took me sometime to understand the importance of painting and the benefits that brought. Until this very day, it has helped me deal with a lot of my inner struggles.
JS: Now, you’ve obviously gone through a personal enlightenment inspired by your darkest moment. Your acknowledgement of personal obstacles has allowed you to transcend into a new chapter in life. Tell me who Lorenzo Swinton is now? What is the source of his newfound inspiration?
LS: To some I’m weird and complicated!
JS: Aren’t we all in some sort of way…
LS: Yes, thank you for saying that. It makes me angry when those who label you as such don’t see themselves in that sort of way. Now, I’m very humble yet still fighting to figure things out. I’m a black man, a man, a fighter, a lover, and a giver. I am power and I am weakness, the contrast of positive and negative. My inspirations are music, history, and what most individuals attempt to hide behind a cloth and not bring to a forefront. The world and those who live in it intrigues me heavily man. I’ve found inspiration in my fears. My piece titled “Colony” is inspired by my fear of things that fly; “I am terrified by fucken Bee’s bro.” Now that I’ve been constantly creating for the last 5 years, it’s so much easier for me to feel and create from within.
JS: Let’s talk about your extraordinary body of work over the past few years. Give us more insight on some of your work?
LS: Last year and all of 2020 found me in a time of heavy inspiration. The pandemic just took me to an entirely different dimension. In the past 5 years I have created a body of work that continues to evolve in real time. Those include The Americana Series, The Neo-Jazz Collection, The Aesthete Collection, and The Connoisseur Collection. My Neo-Jazz Collection has been the series that’s interacted most with others. This is a series that I started on back in 2018, but recently added new pieces to the collection this year. By far one of my personal favorite bodies of work. When I started working on this collection, I was mentally attempting to get out of an emotional artistic process I was locked in. The Neo-Jazz Collection allowed me to create characters based on people I would like to know, the friends and family I never had. “Every Neo Jazz entity is one of my friends locked in four walls that I’ve created introvertly.” Society is yet to fully accept me like The Neo Jazz Collection has. My work is more of a depiction from a negative approach, but still culturally positive. “I want to bring to the forefront the positive influences that our culture, our music, and our rich history has given the world.” My Americana series also touches on the many struggles we’ve faced, my focus was the last 50 to 60 years. One morning I woke up and decided to start working on a series focused on the fundamental of black history evolving from the civil rights. My goal was to go back in time to unify the past with present moments in our community.
JS: As an emerging artist, tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced to make your presence felt in the local art scene? What are you wanting to improve or change?
LS: The art realm and society have very similar challenges that have effect in the way we move forward. Representation is an issue in so many different ways. Resources are very limited to certain artist and styles of art not just locally, but internationally as well. We are cutting off channels and conversations because monetization becomes the sole motive of inspiration in some of these entities. “You know what, I’m going to speak what the fuck I’m really feeling.” There needs to be more representation in all different aspects, all different artist, all different mediums, all different shapes and sizes, an all around vast amount of artistic representation at all established galleries.”
JS: We are stepping into an era where a powerful shift is emerging brother. Artist have an extremely powerful voice; this platform allows me to document it and share it with our readers in real time.
LS: Yes, indeed my brother. I am very thankful for this platform, and what it does for the community.
JS: Looking ahead; What is Lorenzo Swinton cooking up in the lab this very moment? What can we expect in 2023?
LS: I see a lot of work to be done in a world where negativity is celebrated, it’s time for me to be a voice. The world we’re currently living in is a world where positivity is almost nonexistent, the good in humanity is not celebrated enough. It’s all about community for me; “now that this exhibition is on display for individuals to experience, you all have a piece of me and what’s been going on in my head.” The voice that I’m now hearing reflects what I’ve continued to hear in the art realm, and what I no longer want to see. The connection between the viewer and myself will be established in an entirely different dimension. I want to be able to enhance the artist and gallery collaboration. Above all, my work is catapulting me into something greater. The Outsider is now on the inside…
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