Artist Cherry Sweig is bringing a collection of angels she “found” in Venice, Italy to her native La Jolla, hoping to inspire those who view them to look at, up, through, and into the images as she did.
“Finding Venetian Angels” will debut with a reception 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, 2020 at the St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church’s Gallery by-the-Sea. For the exhibit, Sweig produced a profound number of works inspired by her recent stay in Venice.
She spoke to La Jolla Light from her Windansea-adjacent cottage-cum-studio, which is bursting at the seams with her art.
“So much of what happened in Venice was by accident,” Sweig recalled, walking through room after room of paintings, and pointing to the large canvas leaning against the mantle. Revealing a Venetian landscape at sunset, “Heavenly Halo,” she said, is one of the exhibit’s anchors, created after a boat blocked her “perfect spot,” and she was forced to find a lower spot before losing the sunlight. Noticing the light was even better in her new perch, Sweig realized that accidental direction might be the theme of her series ...
A graduate of The Bishop’s School and San Diego State University, Sweig is now curator of art at the Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista. After working many years in graphic design and video game design, she said she returned to her palettes and paints full-time more than 15 years ago.
“My real love is painting and traveling,” she said, motioning to the landscapes stacked around her walls.
A lifelong parishioner of St. James (her parents are buried beneath the front lawn), Sweig is on the art committee for the church’s gallery, planning exhibitions for the facility since its inception a few years ago. In 2019, the committee decided to sponsor one artist/parishioner’s work in the gallery per year, selecting Sweig as the first.
Sweig said she seized the opportunity to realize a dream quest for angelic images, and to show the results of this search through an art show. So she booked a fortuitously cheap flight ($1!) and found a steal on a Venetian palazzo where she lived for a month while gathering exhibit material.
“I took off every day and got lost,” she said of her explorations. During her wanderings, she would quickly paint a watercolor of an image into small sketchbooks, which then served as trip souvenirs — painted travel journals. Along with her photos, she used these images as the basis for the larger paintings she created back home, adding in inspiration from collected postcards, bookmarks and other regalia.
Her first angel sighting came at the San Giorgio Maggiore church. Built in the 1200s, the church features a high altar with two imposing, dark angels.
“All of a sudden, I see that (angel) reflected in the orb, and I had to paint it,” she explained. “It was in such a beautiful pose. That became the signature painting for the exhibit.” From there, she said she began to notice angels everywhere, and elements of her sightings are incorporated into all the canvasses of the series, whether explicit or suggested — winged wax drippings off candles, feathered Carnival masks, light reflected in canal waters.
Another standout piece, “Angelic Shadows,” details Sweig’s awe at noticing the shadow of an angel cast on St. Mark’s dome during a trip with Bishop’s School in 1984, during which she was an art history tour leader. She sought out the same shadow during her return trip, its appearance a poignant 35-year memory, as its source is not immediately discernible. Sweig said it was a challenge to find it and recreate it in her studio.
Sweig’s workspace contains several paintings in-progress. Her palates are prepared for her additions of color, depth or texture, as she contemplates each work.
To create a painting, Sweig said she starts with sweeping acrylics in various colors across the canvas, paying attention to the resulting “holidays,” or spaces where the canvas peeks through the paint. Often these holidays will entirely change her plan for the painting. “But they all start out with these wonderful backgrounds,” she indicated.
Next, she’ll paint oils on top of the acrylics, adding the details and depth. After a lengthy process ensuring all the elements are in place, she begins glazing the painting. This technique “tones back some of the bright colors and unifies the light in an image,” she explained. Sometimes she’ll add a thicker medium (called molding paste), which allows her to texture the painting to mimic the feel of a statue. Exhibit visitors will be invited to touch the “Gabriel” piece to simulate the feeling of standing before the marble statue in Venice as Sweig did.
As a final touch, she will accent some canvases with gold leaf she bought in Venice.
During the exhibit’s run, Sweig will offer demonstrations using wax and wax seals, along with ornate materials she acquired on her trip.
All exhibit’s paintings will be for sale with proceeds benefiting St. James by-the-Sea and ECS Art Classes, which provide instruction for homeless people and children.
As for what’s next for this prolific artist, Sweig noted she’ll be working on a series of “huge waves crashing in La Jolla” for a show in the fall. And then, she shrugged, “I don’t know where I’ll find my next inspiration. It’ll find me.”
• IF YOU GO: The art exhibit “Finding Venetian Angels,” opens with a reception 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, 2020 at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church’s Gallery by-the-Sea, 743 Prospect St., La Jolla. A dialogue with Father Mark Hargreaves and Sweig, “A Quest for Angels,” is set for 11 a.m. Saturday, March 7. The exhibit can be viewed 12:30-3 p.m. Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, and 8:30-10 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays through April 12, 2020. (858) 459-3421. Visit sjbts.org and sjcherrysweig.com