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On the wing

Jon Swart poses for a photo with his artwork on Wednesday at his home in Spokane. Swart works with pastels and pen and ink. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Jon Swart poses for a photo with his artwork on Wednesday at his home in Spokane. Swart works with pastels and pen and ink. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Artist goes where life takes him

Jon Swart is a bit of a nonconformist; at 42, he has yet to buy into the “white picket fence” mentality and the boundaries it represents in life as well as his artwork.

“There are no rules in the world of abstract art. We can remove walls with shading and color. There are no boundaries,” he explained. “We can let go of what we’ve been taught and use our hearts and minds to help each other enjoy this wonderful gift of life.”

Swart grew up in Boston and attended the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale where he earned a diploma in advertising. He worked at a sign company for a while and then, at 23, started his own sign company in the Boston area.

“I started carving and painting signs, making them more artistic and one-of-a-kind,” he said. In 2000, he started focusing more on art, doing murals and portraits until he found his style.

His style is abstract, tangible yet vague, ancient yet modern, and fractured yet whole. Created intuitively, his work looks modern but contains primitive-looking forms that organically flow and seem to breathe.

Using soothing colors of oil pastels, earth tones or just black ink, Swart creates mesmerizing studies of subconscious thought and the occasional otherworldly fossil on paper or wood.

“I’ve been told by people that I’m tapped into ‘it,’ ” he said. “ ‘It’ can’t be explained. It’s a sort of primal energy source that’s within all of us. I’ve also been encouraged by many to continue doing what I do. So I feel it’s my duty to stay connected to it.” Some of his work looks like puzzle pieces that belong in a familiar yet unknown universe.

Swart hasn’t watched the news in 30 years; he chooses instead to make his own rules, play the drums, and read books by Henry Rollins, Charles Bukowski and Don Miguel Ruiz. Swart travels light and goes, like his paintings and drawings, with the flow, packing up and going where the wind takes him. He has shown his work at a couple of galleries in Boston but sold much better at a makeshift display of his work on Newbury Street. He has also sold his work near Pike Street Market in Seattle and near the Santa Monica Pier in California. He has also sold work to interior decorators.

Living a little like a bohemian, Swart has been homeless in the past but his art has been constant. About six years ago, he moved to the Spokane area to be near his sons. He freelances as a house painter and a handyman, does the occasional art mural, jams on the drums with a band, and paints.

This summer he plans on going back to Boston for a while to sell art and see family and friends. He may go to New York in the near future as well. “I wing it and it works for me,” he said.

The Verve is a weekly feature celebrating the arts. If you know an artist, dancer, actor, musician, photographer, band or singer, contact Jennifer LaRue by email