Mark Swanson was born in South Dakota and raised in California. Although his uncles, Ray and Gary Swanson, paved the way by achieving notable success as painters, Swanson initially had no plans to follow in their footsteps. He originally wanted to be a linguist, and pursued studies in Scandinavian languages to the extent that he has been known to dream in Norwegian. “Then I took an art class and got turned on.”
It was during high school that Swanson went to Europe and spent several weeks studying ancient civilizations, art history and the great masters. At the time, Swanson was interested in pencil drawing. “I’ve been art oriented ever since the time I was old enough to hold a pencil and sketch. Drawing is still my favorite form of expression, but I really don’t have much of a chance to do it anymore.”
Now, Swanson draws and paints cowboys and mountain men, a genre which was inspired by his uncle Gary Swanson, who had a studio in Wyoming. Swanson spent a couple of months there, and he became so fascinated that he went back to California with the sole intention of making enough money to go back to Wyoming. As it turned out, he ended up taking some art classes, drawing and painting. On July 4th, 1978, Swanson went out to Prescott, Arizona to his uncle Ray Swanson’s studio, where he produced six paintings, which were then framed and sent off to be sold.
Swanson began staying in Prescott for two or three weeks, painting, then traveling back to California to finish the works, a pattern that continued for six months or so. Eventually, Swanson married and moved to Prescott permanently. He worked under his uncle for two and a half years, and then moved into a studio in his own home. He has been painting constantly ever since.
A stickler for authenticity, Swanson often fashions the props he uses in his paintings. “It’s hard for me to do nothing. I have so much creative energy that I have to be doing something in order to relax. When I get home from the studio, my wife Cindi and I will spend some time talking about each other’s days, and then I’ll work on a pair of moccasins or leggings, or something of that nature.”
Reference: Southwest Art September 1980, Art of the West March/April 1991