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Father and Son Artists Invite You Along for the Ride

Mike and Larsson McSwain’s pandemic travel sketches

Father and Son Artists Invite You Along for the Ride

Shreveport Regional Arts Council

Mike and Larsson McSwain, Untitled, 2020. Mixed media.

The isolation of a pandemic can catalyze creativity. As plagues ravaged London in 1606, William Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. When the Great Plague spread through England in 1665, Sir Isaac Newton developed calculus, codified the spectrum, and started his study of the laws of motion. During the summer of 2021, when everyone thought the most recent worldwide pandemic might be coming to an end, architect and artist Mike McSwain and his artist son Larsson sketched their way through Louisiana, Texas, Colorado, and New York trying to make sense of how COVID-19 had stopped the world. They illustrate their discovery of the beauty in everyday life by transforming road signs and rest areas, capturing the allure of canyons and chapels, and illustrating little-known lodges and some of their favorite pit stops to make up an artful journey everyone can enjoy. Along for the Ride opens at artspace in downtown Shreveport on Friday, November 12, and runs through January 15.

“When COVID hit, life hit,” says Larsson McSwain. Father and son set out on a cross-country trip to try to make sense of COVID’s effects. They found the road the most honest and relevant place to navigate the uncertain times. The artspace exhibition the trip inspired is, in Larsson McSwain’s words, “not some pro-America, prop-art exhibition. This is pro ‘open your freaking eyes and see the beauty in the everyday’ art. It might be the concrete in the foundation of the Ruston, Louisiana, rest area I love so much, the beauty in the tucked-away Lucky Liquor’s signage, or the cardinal flittering away from the bird feeder, leaving only a suggestion of its form on my retina. Through this exhibition, Dad and I want to share the beauty we found in our everyday—the circumstances, hardships, celebrations that brought us back together this year.”

SRAC’s artspace encourages you to experience this life journey the way McSwain father and son did: with “See America” and “Welcome to Colorado” greetings inviting viewers into artspace on giant-sized postcards urging them to hit the road. Illustrated maps lead the way past walls of roughly framed sketches painstakingly bringing out the beauty of a pigeon in a park, a blue, concrete Virgin Mary statue, and the motel sign boasting a vacancy that locals know is permanent. Sketches on coffee filters trace rivers and mark sites not to be bypassed. Photo journals, pencils, ink, the desks where the finishing touches were applied—even a sketch of the inside of the car with straws in cups in the beverage holders make it into the exhibition to illustrate the extra of the ordinary along the way. It’s all designed to help the viewer feel the trip is not over—that the journey continues—to look out the window and see things in more vivid detail, and to take the scenic route and observe our surroundings more closely.

Mike McSwain says, “I believe that this show is the embodiment of how two normal dudes can tackle today’s time, with all the uncertainty and weirdness, and turn it into a tale of love and respect for each other and for our collective brothers and sisters all around us.”

Originally scheduled to open as I Am Architect Mike McSwain, and I Draw Pictures in June 2020, the exhibition of Mike McSwain’s sketches of places he had traveled abroad and had sketched at home was suspended when COVID put artspace exhibitions on hold. While planning that exhibition, Mike McSwain said, “My hope is that this exhibition will generate a bit of nostalgia in people, as well as provoke a renewed excitement to rediscover some familiar places which they may not have explored in a while.”

Rediscovering familiar places is still a theme for this new exhibition, but the isolation and coping with a “halted world” have given it new meaning for father and son artists. These are not two separate shows, but a true collaboration, where one artist might add the color to the other’s pencil sketch, or the two might sketch the same scene—one with the heart of a twenty-something-year-old, and the other with the eye of experience. Through the exhibition the viewer is able to see the very different styles you would expect given the generation that separates the two, and yet they send a common message: make yourself available to the awe and wonder in the everyday—be present without judging things as important or unimportant, and allow art to move beyond its relative value to its inherent dignity.

“Navigating the uncertain times of COVID taught me that I had to seize the day—carpe diem! When this pandemic stopped the world, Larsson and I set out on this road trip to connect our lives,” says Mike McSwain. “We found peace in giving ourselves the freedom to chase our bliss with no guilt. We read incessantly, researched seemingly irrelevant topics, and sketched like there was not going to be a tomorrow (and some days I am certain we felt like there really was no guarantee of a tomorrow). This research, sketching, and conversations became the perfect foundation for our joint artspace exhibition.”

Larsson McSwain adds, “The road itself was a sort of rest stop along the road of my life. The show is a reflection of where we went recently, where we’ve been in the past, how we got where we were going. Yes, those wildflowers on the side of the road are worth pulling over for a picture. Circumstances, hardships, and celebrations during the last year brought us together. All those miles in between could be a chore—and I’m not saying they weren’t—but when I finally listened and stopped to smell the roses along the way, I saw real beauty, right in our own backyards. Remember: it’s important to exit at the rest stop. Sometimes you have to pull over and appreciate just how far you’ve come and how much you’ve been through to get here. It’s time to hit the road.”

Come Along for the Ride and take a journey through the world of artists Mike and Larsson McSwain at artspace, 708 Texas Street in downtown Shreveport through January 15, 2022. artspaceshreveport.com.