Personal Space: Michael Swann

A one-on-one conversation with artist Michael Swann

Michael Swann earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Birmingham Southern College in 1986, and then promptly turned to his love of music as his principal occupation. Working primarily as a touring guitarist for 20 years, he would produce art when he could, often reflecting his travels with palettes that recalled the colors of the changing landscape and figures as edgy or bold as the decision to follow a passion. Within the past 10 years, Swann has seen less of the road, trading his guitar for a strong return to visual arts. He focuses on art as anyone approaches a professional pursuit: working daily in a variety of mediums and techniques that include painting, drawing, printmaking, airbrushing and pin-striping. He maintains three studios plus a woodworking shop, where he builds his own stretchers, panels and frames. He is also Alabama’s ambassador to the Portrait Society of America. He recently opened Gallery Vox in Tarrant.

B-Metro:  When did you first discover the arts as a vocation and job for you? When did you discover you were an artist?

Swann: I was told that I had artistic talent when I was very young, which encouraged me to pursue art in various ways. I began working with an airbrush at 15 and started a job airbrushing t-shirts at 16. Now, I make most of my livelihood from pinstriping motorcycles and hotrods, as well as painting portraits and using gold-leaf techniques to hand paint signs and store fronts.

B-Metro: What is the favorite type of work that you do in terms of your art?

Swann: If I had to pinpoint my favorite style, it would be some type of figurative work, whether it’s in oils or printmaking. I tend to simplify figures if I’m doing an etching or linocut, but not so much if I’m painting in oils. More times than not my favorite work will include or allude to the human body.

B-Metro: Tell me how Gallery Vox came about. How is it structured? Where did the name come from?

Swann: Gallery Vox came about in a very organic way. I have a small two-story commercial building in downtown Tarrant. I have, for seventeen years, rented the bottom floor to a church. When they moved out approximately a year ago, I had to decide whether or not to rent it out to a business or use it in an art-related capacity. I chose the latter and started renovating the space on a shoestring budget. At first, I intended to utilize it as a workspace, where I could rent studios to artists and host a few informal shows. Eventually, I decided it could be a multi-use space.

Gallery Vox is new, and the structure is evolving based on each experience we have and what ideas come to mind after each exhibition. John David Conley is on board as an advisor and curator, as well as artist Julie Watters. They have contributed their time, vision, and physical labor toward the growth of the space. Fortunately, we know many talented individuals in the community who have also generously answered the call and lent a hand. Getting Gallery Vox to where it is right now has certainly been a group effort.

I was discussing possible names with Karen Cole Swann, a pro at branding and promotion. She brainstormed and sent a list of suggestions and VOX stood out because it’s my favorite brand of guitar amp, and it also means voice. I like the idea of letting artists express their voices in an uncompromising way.

B-Metro: What are you trying to accomplish with the gallery, what are your hopes for it?

Swann: I would like to find a way for Gallery Vox to sustainably engage Birmingham with compelling contemporary art. We will also feature installations in MicroVox, a small storefront window turned drive-by art gallery. Gallery Vox will host special events and workshops as well.

3 Responses to “Personal Space: Michael Swann”

  1. Carlene Walker says:

    I have been to the studio and think it is exciting to have this going on in Tarrant. Michael is a fantastic artist.

  2. Richard Banks says:

    Working on a video project recently, I spent a chunk of time with Michael, Julie Watters, and a number of their collaborators. The effort and energy I saw these talented people commit to the space was a wonder, and the results at Vox show. I encourage anyone with an interest in art, as well as just learning more about the endeavors of really intelligent, fun people to visit the gallery. The power of art is not just from the hands of its creators, but it extends to those interacting with it. All that is certainly on display at Vox.

  3. Gary Chapman says:

    So happy to have this man in our community. I look forward to the ever, evolving project of Gallery VOX. Quickly becoming the Birmingham areas most exciting gallery.

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