Southwest to Northwest in Oil and Photography: The Art of Jan Swan

‘Wandering’ is a recent photograph of Jan Swan’s dog on a Grays Harbor beach. Photo credit: Jan Swan

After 20 years of establishing her artistic career in Albuquerque, New Mexico, painter/photographer Jan Swan moved herself, her dog, 13 cats and 3 ducks to Aberdeen in a cargo van. She was ready for a change of scene and she was longing for the coast. Her oil paintings and photographs have since been shown at the Aberdeen Art Center and the Renegade Red Studio in Hoquiam.  Among them were coastal birds in portrait or in formation, and masterful camera captures of cats.

Painter and photographer Jan Swan’s work includes many images of Southwest horses and Northwest shorebirds. Photo credit: Christine Vincent

Jan Swan was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history, summa cum laude, from the University of Colorado in Boulder. “I loved European history,” she says. ”But I also took as many art classes as I could. I was always painting and taking photographs.”

Swan never pursued a career in history, but she continued practicing her art. After living in Santa Fe and San Francisco, she settled in Albuquerque. Supporting herself as a paralegal, she began promoting her art. She had her first exhibition at the Gathering Artists gallery in Bernalillo, in 1999, and continued showing her photographs there for years, selling but a few. Sales at the monthly shows in the Wooden Cow Gallery in Albuquerque were similarly slow. Participating in the Alameda Studio Tour, Albuquerque, in 2011, proved more successful. “I sold more of my work in my own studio than in the galleries, including paintings,” she remembers.

Swan’s New Mexico photography included mission architecture often expressed in striking black and white shots. Some of them were part of the Dia de Los Muertos event at the Aberdeen Art Center, October 9, 2021.

‘Crossing the Road’ depicts two young New Mexico stallions Jan Swan observed near Placitas, New Mexico. Photo credit: Christine Vincent

Swan has a great love for animals, with horses and cats occupying a special place in her art. She loved to watch the herds of wild horses in Placitas, New Mexico, and started painting them. They were a success, especially a series of small canvasses depicting stylized long-legged horses, some in vibrant colors, which would have looked very much at home on pottery.

While her paintings of horses show the graceful movement and interaction of groups in the herd, her cats are boldly executed character portraits capturing each feline’s vibrant personality.

When asked about her style of painting, Jan muses: “People tell me my art is figurative abstract. I like using that term because it seems to describe what I am doing.” There is something happening with time and movement in her art and photography. She draws attention to the moment suspended in time.

After exhibiting widely in Albuquerque and other New Mexico locations, her work has been shown more recently in Astoria, Port Angeles, and in Saugerties, New York.

These Gulls with Blue have are a recent work by Jan Swan. Photo credit: Christine Vincent

Swan is sometimes misunderstood by artists striving for realism. “They tell me you are almost there…meaning on my way to a realistic execution,” she says.” I am also a photographer. If realism was my goal, I would take a photograph. In my paintings, I am aiming for something else.”

The artist does take photographs to study the subjects of her paintings. She loves to go to the beach early in the morning, when she is alone with the birds, taking photos to be transformed into that “something else” in oil paint: seagulls dotting the sand in their typical but ever changing formations, a single long-legged avocet, its fleeting movement caught in sweeping brush strokes, busy sandpipers marching across the tidal flats, a big-eyed beach dog.

Her beautiful buff palette, set off with fields of vivid color or black and white, hearkens back to the Southwest. She has taken it with her to the Northwest coast of Grays Harbor. A striking example is a trio of seagulls with vibrant blue wings.

In May 2019, Swan opened the Rowan Tree Gallery, in the Aberdeen Art Center, in the space now occupied by Mother Crow’s Studio Gallery. “Unfortunately, I hit the time of the COVID-19 lockdown,” she sighs. “I sold a few items but had to close in March 2021.”

jan swan art Looking at the street
‘Watching the Street ‘ is one of the cat photographs, Jan Swan plans to use in a photo book. Photo credit: Jan Swan

Swan is currently working as a paralegal for Hagen & Bates P.S., Aberdeen. She is contemplating new ideas which she deems vital for artists. “We need to be inventive,” she says. “We must not let allow our art to become stagnant in a trend.” Her new project is a photo book of Aberdeen cats which she plans to self publish. The work will combine her love of cats with her love of street photography. The image “Looking at the Street” affords a glimpse into what is to come: a visit into the world of cats, dwelling on the moment in time, from the cat angle.

Jan Swan is a member of the Harbor Art Guild. The Alder Grove Gallery has been exhibiting selections of her work since 2019.

View “Looking at the Street” and her other works by visiting the Jan Swan website. Contact her at 360.637.8233, 505.899.2918, or

Print Friendly, PDF & Email