Just Asking: Interview with Artist Liz Lemon Swindle
LDS Living - May 01, 2012
Liz Lemon Swindle has become famous for her paintings of religious subjects – particularly those of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith. LDS Living recently caught up with her for the inside scoop on an artistic life.
What was it like trying to raise a family while creating your art at the same time?
It was difficult. Every day was a juggling act to balance two things I loved dearly. In the end I couldn’t give up either one so I gave up sleep instead.
How does your husband fit into the popularity and fame your art has garnered?
He is the quintessential Hyrum Smith. He is an amazing man and accomplished in his own right, but he is comfortable being my support with no thought for himself. He isn’t threatened by any of it and that makes it wonderful to be together and experience this life as friends.
In 2007, you were able to work with Mothers Without Borders to create paintings of Christ. What was your most memorable experience?
My most memorable experience came from a little boy named Kennedy who, at 3 years old, had lost both of his parents to AIDS. Mothers Without Borders found him living alone with his 6-year-old brother and 10-year-old sister. When I thought of those three children struggling to survive and the millions of others across Africa in similar circumstances, I felt an overwhelming hopelessness and said to myself, “No amount of money can fix this.”
Later that day while we were filming, Kennedy climbed into the arms of the man portraying the Savior. As I stood watching them, Kennedy turned toward me and our eyes met. At that moment, I knew it wasn’t hopeless. I realized that the Savior could fix not only the problems of Africa but of the whole world . . . and we can be His hands to do it.
What was the hardest part of learning how to paint Christ?
Accepting that not everyone likes what I paint. In the beginning, I thought that because I felt moved while creating the images that everyone would receive it with that spirit. I now see that is why there are so many artists in the Lord’s work—so there is something for everyone.
How does the fact that you’re a Mormon affect the public’s perception of your art?
It is no different for me than for anyone else who’s Mormon. There will always be people whose prejudice convinces them that Mormons are not Christians, but I think more and more people are seeing that idea for what it is: nonsense.
Where and how do you get inspiration for your art?
I draw tremendous inspiration from reading the scriptures and finding stories that touch me. Looking at other artists’ works is another source of inspiration, and hearing from others who like the work gives me a “shot in the arm.” I get calls or emails where someone says something like, “I just read this and I had to share it with you.”
From conception of an idea to the last brush stroke on canvas, about how long does it typically take you to finish a painting?
I suppose that depends on the size of the painting and where I am in my personal life. Some paintings come together in matter of weeks while others have taken me years. The one I am working on now of the Woman at the Well will be three months from start to finish.
Some of your latest artwork modernizes parables from the New Testament. What is the message you most want your viewers to get from these paintings?
I realized a couple years ago that after the Savior’s atonement, the most important gift He gave us was His teachings. By showing each parable in a modern setting, I am reminding myself that His teachings are not ancient stories for another time but rather a roadmap to happiness for me today.
What other hobbies do you enjoy outside of your art?
As I get older I find that being with my family and especially my grandchildren is my favorite thing to do. I also like to garden. (That makes me sound like an old woman, doesn’t it?)
What’s something few people know about you?
I have a weakness for Hostess Snowballs.
If you could meet any artist who has ever lived, who would it be and why?
Eugene Bernand. His art speaks to me. Can I choose a second? Norman Rockwell because he painted life in a way that still inspires me to enjoy every moment.
To see what Liz is working on right now or view any of her images, go to lizlemonswindle.com or like her on Facebook.
© LDS Living, May/June 2012.