"There are painful and funny things that I just don’t feel I can express in painting that I can with zines. I call this my “heart work.” But I also still love to paint. I don’t know how the two things work together, or whether they even need to."
Carolyn Swiszcz is the genius behind Zebra Cat Zebra, a zine I have been subscribing to for the last year. It feels like such a treat when I receive it in the mail. I love the zine so much I gifted three subscriptions to friends of mine in California.
The first time I was exposed to Carolyn's art was when I came across her videos, specifically "West. St. Paul." I became glued to following her work after that. In 2015, I was obsessed with her MAEP exhibit "Inventory" at the Minneapolis Institute of Art when I was interning in the Contempoary Art Department. I would go visit her display regularly, reflecting over her concepts and explorations of place, nostalgia, and memory.
Born and raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Carolyn moved to Minnesota to attend the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where she earned a BFA in 1994. In the late 90’s she spent three winters in Miami Beach on a fellowship from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Time spent among Miami Beach's faded apartment buildings inspired Swiszcz to take an interest in buildings and public spaces. Swiszcz’s work has been exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Drawing Center, Highpoint Center for Printmaking, Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery in New York, Steven Zevitas Gallery in Boston, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. She lives in West Saint Paul, MN with her husband [photographer Wilson Webb] and their daughter.
In this quick interview, I ask Carolyn about Zebra Cat Zebra (of course!). I was also curious about the first place she ever painted.
Enjoy and admire on!
Jes: The days I receive Zebra Cat Zebra I gasp with giddiness! I am assuming I am one of many who stop in their tracks to open the envelope and start reading your latest zine. Can you tell me about when your zine days started and what you hope to continue doing as a zine-maker?
Carolyn: I started making zines in 2016 for an after school book class I taught at my daughter’s elementary school. I fell in love with the 8 page format that fits one sheet of paper - it was the perfect size for my thoughts. After the angst of the 2016 election zines became a way to feel less discouraged and connect with others. I have a great crew that helps me fold the zines, and I’ve made friends with people in my community when I’ve interviewed them. For example, I was curious about my exercise teacher at the Y and asked if she would tell me more about her path in life. I ended up making a zine about her, which I gave out in her class. It’s strengthened the bond in our little Wednesday group. The whole process makes me happy. I love sending things in the mail.
My goal is to make a book. I’m not sure if it would be a collection of these shorter stories or a longer narrative combined with paintings. I have a lot of questions, and I’m still trying to find my way both visually and with the writing. There are painful and funny things that I just don’t feel I can express in painting that I can with zines. I call this my “heart work.” But I also still love to paint. I don’t know how the two things work together, or whether they even need to.
I love how you put a spotlight on buildings, businesses, and street intersections in your art. Many of these places that would seem ordinary to most tend to render uniquely in your work. I often feel like I am touring the Twin Cities through your portraits. I am reminded of the places I have driven by or I am learning about new places. When did this subject matter in your work begin for you? Do you remember the first place you ever painted?
In my mid-20’s I had a fellowship in Miami Beach. One of the architectural fixtures on Lincoln Road is a huge mid-century office tower. It’s blue, and it’s topped with massive digital clocks facing all four directions. This was one of the main things I could see out of the window in my first studio there. This building made me laugh because it was so functional. It was also a kind beacon that oriented me during neighborhood walks as well as a scolding presence reminding me of the passage of time and how I needed to get back to work. The view of this clock out my studio window was my first architectural work.
Does memory inspire your art? Or nostalgia? Or architecture?
Not so much memory, but a desire to create memory and meaning, a desire to make my surroundings more interesting. I find that when I paint a place I feel like I own it a little bit. Painting it draws it into my story. Then when I go back out in the world and see the place again it’s more exciting to me. It’s not just the pizza place anymore, it is the “pizza place in my painting.” Seeing the world inspires the painting and seeing the painting inspires how I see the world.
And yes, architecture also inspires the work. Some subjects are chosen for purely formal reasons like “I have a great idea for how I can render that stucco.
Thank you for answering my questions, Carolyn! Where can we find you online?
My web site is carolynswiszcz.com and I’m on Instagram @carolynswiszcz. I post extra comics on Instagram that aren’t in my printed zines.
Hey readers, you can subscribe to Zebra Cat Zebra too! Check it out here.
All images courtesy of the artist.
Artists I Admire is a series of interviews with artists I think highly of.