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Published:November 27th, 2005 21:07 EST
Portrait of an Artistic Warrior - Charlee Swanson

Portrait of an Artistic Warrior - Charlee Swanson

By Andrew Chien


Two erect p*nises created out of twisted metals and broken glass stuck out of the wall ejaculating barb wired semen. This is not a p*rnographic gallery venue catered towards a junkyard fetish subculture. It is the workshop for a kind gentleman with a proclivity towards: building hot rods from scratch, immersing himself in hip hop culture and educating children to become artistic warriors ", which is his new label for activists who express themselves creatively.

Charlee Swanson, 58, of Montclair, completed an interpretive dance theater exhibit named Hip Hop Construction " in Montclair State University five months ago. He will become founding father to a non-profit organization that will provide children with the resources to express themselves creatively in the hopes of bringing about a whole new generation of artistic warriors. " His artwork could provide the catalyst towards awareness and creativity for the youth. 

That`s danger sex number one, " Swanson rubbed his chin and pointed at the two phalluses that adorned his wall. Danger sex number one was created out of Dangerous Sex, " a sculpture series from 1996. It was an urgent call to educate young people coming of age about the threat of AIDS and to be aware of the risks inherent in the choices they make.

The sculpture series Dangerous Sex " proved itself to be instrumental in Swanson`s development as an educator and an artist. It`s one of the things I`m most proud of; if it wasn`t for that I wouldn`t have come to be known for my trademark of barbed wire and broken glass, " said Swanson.

His kind weathered face and curly white chest hair sticking out, Swanson`s appearance falls under a combination of the Gordon`s Fisherman and an aged John Travolta who traded his Saturday Night Fever " disco dancing for jogging. The dark shades, black tank top, and matching black shorts that he wore contrasted with his shiny white hair, ruddy complexion, and jolly disposition. The contrast continued through Swanson`s body language as his expression shined with a satisfied optimistic cheer, while his body bursts with a relentless kinetic restlessness as he stays in constant motion-- whether it be pacing around or multi-tasking several errands that had to be taken care of.

This continued until he finally decided to sit down on a chair in front of a blank television screen and verbally rerun the episodes of life that made up the past. His earliest memory was getting kicked out of Kindergarten for having an argument with his teacher on how to draw an alligator. The seeds of an artist who defied the conventions laid down by the status quo were planted. Swanson lived his childhood like a young MacGyver, making fire trucks out of old baby carriages, scooters out of wheels, broomstick, two by four, and a soda box, and making tiny box racers out of hand soap. All this while emulating the television adventures of the Little Rascals and getting into all kinds of general mischief. I could go on and on with all of these stories, but I`m saving them for a book, " Swanson stated, to summarize many of his childhood tangents.

Born and raised in Jersey City, but later moving to Montclair, Swanson has lived a tough but successful life... from having to raise a family, managing a self owned children`s boutique store for seven years that was described by him as being ahead of it`s time, and-- most important to him-- created community projects that allowed him to work with, educate, and learn from young people by establishing a sense of democratic education, providing them with venues to explore, experiment, and express their creative potential.

He`s a remarkable, passionate person that talks a lot about living in the moment and he`s very involved in the life, " said Elizabeth Ludas, on the subject of Swanson. Ludas is a freelance writer/ journalist for the Montclair Times who wrote a feature on Swanson mentoring a high school student, which revealed to her the passionate side of Swanson. She would later go on to help Swanson by posting notes for his script Hip Hop Construction, An Exploration in New Media ", which would later premier at the Montclair State University Art Gallery. He`s an activist and artist, and his art is activism and probably his activism is art to, " Ludas concluded.

Hard to say "joy" came to mind, but it`s a lot deeper than that.  I want people to be moved emotionally by my art, but also mentally ", said Swanson, after he paused to crossed his arms and think on the subject of what people should get out of seeing his artwork. As a man who stated plainly of never having a bad experience in his entire career as a professional artist, Swanson remarks,  One of the greatest things about being an artist is that it keeps you in the pulse of life. "