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Meet Kevin Swallow

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kevin Swallow.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I have sketched consistently and created art since I was a kid and began shooting photos regularly in college. Officially though, I’d say that I’ve been a practicing artist since 1995. I was laid off from a job at a magazine, the first day I moved to the city. So, I had some time to kill. While I looked for work, I explored the city on bike and by foot, shooting photographs along the way. I also spent a lot of time sketching, and then decided to pick up some paints which gave me a whole new creative outlet as a self-taught artist, which began my serious pursuit of creating art. I painted abstractions for many years then painted cartoon-style portraits and figures for a while. After moving into my studio about 12 years ago, I started to combine my love for shooting photos of architecture and cityscapes and began to focus exclusively on those subjects in my paintings. I painted with acrylic for 17 years but for the past six years, I’ve mostly painted using oils.

Please tell us about your art.
Architecture and cityscapes are my inspiration for creating paintings, photographs, and mixed media. I’m attracted to older infrastructure elements and like to document rooftop water tanks, elevated train tracks, steel bridges, and industrial era buildings. My art is influenced by the unlimited sights, sounds, and colors of the city – working to capture the textures and sensations of the urban landscape.

Rooftop water tanks are a unique architectural element in our cities – especially in Chicago and New York. They are a link to our industrial past and a disappearing element of the skyline. Because these structures are vanishing, I photograph them and then make paintings based on those images.

Photography is the foundation of my art and I have been shooting photos consistently for over 25 years. I travel a lot and always like to explore a new city by walking around taking photographs. To get acquainted with a place, I wander around and take photos of street scenes, architecture, street art, and images of local neighborhoods. Or, to get some inspiration, a long bike ride along the lake or walking around the city clears my head and gets me in the mood to paint.

Music has always fueled my work and creative process – whether it’s the stories in the lyrics or just the feel of the music itself. I need to have music playing while painting. Something else that I do which inspires me creatively is DJ for local independent community radio station, – 107.1FM on Monday nights from 6-8pm, where I enjoy sharing my love of music with listeners on weekly basis.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing artists today?
As a whole, the internet has changed everything for artists and I think having a website and being active on social media platforms like Instagram can be very positive things for artists. You can follow me on Instagram at @swallowstudios. The internet allows you to connect and share your work with other artists, art fans, and collectors from around the world. I personally have gotten sales, connected with art consultants on projects, and received press coverage due to my online presence. At the very least, it’s a great way to share your work, get more exposure, and receive feedback from people about what you’re doing.

I think Chicago is still a great place for artists to develop their art practice, whether they are a visual artist, musician, actor, writer, or performance-based artist. That said, the rapid gentrification over the past 20 years (ironically, kick-started by artists) has displaced many artists from their studios and rehearsal spaces. Yes, we have big events like EXPO at Navy Pier, but the city should also help promote the local artists and what’s happening in the neighborhoods. And it would be great if the larger blue-chip galleries featured more local artists, instead of New York or international artists. I’d also love to see a Chicago Art Museum that showcases all the past, present, and future talent of the Chicago art community.

As a Chicago artist, we have to find new and different ways to get our work shown and gain exposure. Unfortunately, there are a finite number of galleries who only have about 10-12 shows a year each – not enough to support all the artists that live and work here. Pop-ups, apartment galleries, and alternative spaces are great places to show too. Galleries like Firecat Projects (where I had a solo show in 2015) are leading the way with a different business model that gives more control to the artist. Firecat provides a great launchpad for artists – giving them 100% of sales and full creative control of their show. The gallery is supported through a system of patrons, donors, and show sponsors that finance gallery operations, marketing, and promotion of the shows. We need more of this type of thing in Chicago.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
My next public showing of my work – where I’ll be displaying some new cityscape paintings – is at my studio during the Cornelia Arts Building Open Studios: Friday, November 30, 6-10pm, 1800 W. Cornelia, Studio #201. More information on our open studio events is available at The quarterly open studio events are a great opportunity to see my latest work in person. I love being able to have conversations with people about art and get their reactions to what I’m working on.

I also have installations at several local hotels and luxury apartment buildings such as Chicago Hilton and Suites, Mile North Hotel, Hyatt Place, Sheraton Hotel and Suites, The Jones, and Xavier. These installations are large-scale images installed in lobby spaces, guest rooms, and mural-sized images printed on wall coverings adjacent to elevator banks.

You can also make a private appointment to view my work in person at my studio by contacting me via email at You can always visit my website, or follow me on Instagram at @swallowstudios, to see my latest paintings and photographs – cityscapes and street photography images of various places where I’ve traveled – most of which have not been shown previously.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Joe Held – studio photograph, Kevin Swallow – all others

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Robert Bytnar

    December 7, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    Excellent article, beautiful artwork. Overall, I’d say A+!

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