Cole Swanson


new paintings on paper
July 9 - August 14, 2021

Thirteenth Meditation
Eleventh Meditation
Fourteenth Meditation
Twelfth Meditation
Sixth Meditation
Sixteenth Meditation
Seventeenth Meditation
Fifteenth Meditation
Fifth Meditation


Minerality, 2021
installation view

On Minerality

Bone Black
Yellow Ochre
Terre Verte
Iron Red
Burnt Umber
Red Ochre
Chalk White

"I began my artistic practice as a painter, but over the past ten years, I have focused mainly on creating large-scale installations and research-driven projects on human interactions with nature. The slowing mechanics of the public art world at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic signalled my return to foundational training in earth-based painting. For many years, my work engaged natural media, sparked in large part by my first encounters with miniature painting through my long-time teacher Dr. Nathulal Verma. A modern artist and scholar on natural pigments, Nathulalji provided tutelage in the many ways that earth colours were wielded in pre and post-colonial India. I was introduced to methods of pigment extraction from earth-based sources and the application of such colours to cosmopolitan painting traditions including fresco (araayash) and illuminations (laghuchitra). Over the past fourteen years, I have continued to study and collaborate with Dr. Verma and his contemporaries in Jaipur to explore the use of ancient colours in experimental and contemporary contexts.

As mineral pigments are of the earth, it is only logical that they are inextricably connected to the vast biosystems therein. Harvesting natural colours from locations throughout India, Brazil, Spain, and Canada, I shifted scale from the miniature to the monumental. Considering the chemical composition of naturally occurring pigments like ochres, I produced living murals that illuminated, interacted with, and in some cases, fed the microbial systems thriving on architectural and natural substrates. Dilapidated walls, stone rooftops, and mountainside rockfaces burst with life – lichens, bacteria, algae, and fungi form symbiotic colonies that interact with mineral pigments, oxidizing the iron compounds within, expressing new colours and eventually degrading them back toward the earth.

As travel became choked by the virus, my practice turned inward, back toward the miniature, generated this time more organically and automatically. Since the pandemic hit, I began producing pictorial Meditations – quiet works based on a collaborative engagement with seven distinct mineral colours comprised primarily of the bodily elements: iron, calcium, magnesium, and carbon. While some of the pigments were harvested and rendered locally, others were sourced from abroad in areas well-known for their exceptional hues. Each pigment was bound by hand using a natural brew of honey, oxgall, gum, and clove. The restricted palette was applied to wasli, an ochre-stained, multi-layered paper, wetted to allow the colours to interact – each colour behaves differently, since each has its own preferences and potencies. Fine lines in bone black (cattle bone char) were applied to illuminate the forms brought forth by mineral interactions. Paint was applied using the same squirrel hair brushes favoured by Mughal and Rajput miniaturists which continue to be produced today, covertly, in the alley markets of Jaipur’s old city. The resulting miniatures evoke multiple painting and pictorial systems, their undulating forms like a clashing of fleshly worlds, coaxed forth from the furrows, steeped in craft, marked by history, sensual, beautiful, and grotesque.”

Cole Swanson, June 2021

I would like to say a special thanks to Paul Petro, Laura Carusi, and to my mentors in Jaipur, Dr. Nathulal Verma and Dr. Rekha Bhatnagar whose openness, generosity in teaching, and ongoing support have been important in making this work possible. - CS

Cole Swanson is an artist and educator based in Toronto, Canada. He has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions across Canada and throughout international venues in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. He is a two-time national fellowship winner through the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute for his research on miniature painting and fresco techniques in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Under the supervision of modern Indian artist and professor Nathulal Verma, Swanson studied techniques for the manufacture and use of natural materials, mineral pigments and handmade supports.

At the heart of recent work is a cross-disciplinary exploration of materials and their sociocultural and biological histories. Embedded within art media and commonplace resources are complex relations between nature and culture, humans and other agents, consumers and the consumed. Swanson has engaged in a broad material practice using sound, installation, painting, and sculpture to explore interspecies relationships.

Swanson has performed many professional roles within the arts and has held positions in curatorial work, museum and gallery administration, and post-secondary education. His teaching practice includes sessional postings for the Faculty of Art, Ontario College of Art and Design University (Toronto), and as full-time faculty, Professor and Program Coordinator for the Art Foundation and Visual & Digital Arts programs at Humber College (Toronto). He has appeared as author and subject of numerous publications and catalogues, and has guest lectured at academic and arts institutions throughout Canada and abroad.

Swanson has exhibited work across four continents including venues in Canada, USA, Italy, China, Taiwan, India, Spain, and Brazil. Notable exhibitions include Red Earth at Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur, India (2014), The Furrow, The Froth, Rajasthan Lalit Kala Akademi Jaipur, India (2018), The Unbearable Impermanence of Things, Vicky Myhren Gallery at the University of Denver (2019), Enchanted Environments, The Art House at the University of Worcester, Worcester, UK (2019), and AT public galleries throughout Canada including the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, ON (2018), Art Gallery of Peterborough (2018), McIntosh Gallery at the University of Western Ontario, London, ON (2019), The Reach Gallery Museum, Abbottsford, BC (2020), and a solo presentation, Muzzle and Hoof, Horn and Bone, at EDIT: Expo for Design, Innovation, and Technology hosted by the Design Exchange, Toronto, ON, (2017). Recent solo exhibitions with accompanying catalogues include Out of the Strong, Something Sweet, Art Gallery of Guelph (2016), Devil’s Colony, Hamilton Artists Inc (2019); and The Hissing Folly, Visual Arts Centre of Clarington, Bowmanville, ON (2020 - 2021). Swanson will be a featured artist in the upcoming exhibition The Earthly Observatory at the School of Art Institute of Chicago Galleries (Chicago, Il, September 2021).

Cole Swanson has received support from several public agencies including the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, and the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute.