Louisville Magazine

MAR 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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98 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 3.19 THE ART OF NOT KNOWING WE BY CHARLES WOLFORD PHOTO BY JESSICA EBELHAR West Louisville artist Victor Sweatt sees mystery in the natural world. Victor Sweatt is teaching me how to sketch a landscape. "I come from this perspective of using the Masters, the Renaissance, how they divided up the scene into quadrants," he says. "For this one, what I'm thinking about is combining realism and the abstract. Like I say, I'm just having fun with it." We are in Shawnee Park in front of a still life of logs pitted with streaks of snow alongside mounds of wood chips. Dawn broke an hour ago, but clouds still cover the sun, and the branches of black February trees writhe upon the paper sky like strokes of calligraphy. Sweatt is in his mid-50s, taller than six feet, and he wears a camera looped around his neck. It falls on the chest of the coat he is bundled in against the frigid morning air. Whenever he smiles, his cheeks lift into a round fullness. He loves to laugh. "I spend a lot of time laughing at myself, so the rest of the world doesn't stand a chance," he says. Looking toward the wood chips, Sweatt lifts his hand. "I grew up in the West End, so I haven't seen farmlands and streams and things like that. Just city blocks. So I started going to parks and learning to see things differently." Sweatt is from the Park DuValle neighborhood in west Louisville. "e environment I was in, people weren't used to doing art. I'm self-taught. When everyone else liked toys and things, I liked crayons. I had a box of 64 with a built-in pencil sharpener. I was big-time," he says. Sweatt spent hours by himself coloring. He was so focused that his mother would yell, "Vic, are you in the house? You need to start making some noise sometime." Even as a child, Sweatt would sharpen each crayon before he put them back in the box. When he got to middle and high school, he skipped class to go home and draw. He would be up all night and hear the school bus pull onto his street the next morning. To this day, Sweatt's working hours remain all-consuming. Earlier in the week, I arranged to visit him at his studio at the Louisville Visual Art building in Portland, and Sweatt noted a reminder to himself in his schedule that he had to sleep so he could be awake for our interview. LVA is a warehouse, and Sweatt's corner of it is between two plywood walls going back about 20 feet to a row of windows blurred with light. He works in oils, inks, acrylics, watercolors. He has painted murals, including in Park DuValle's Southwick Community Center gymnasium and on a Russell neighborhood building at 16th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. Sweatt's studio is a testament to his range of interests: wooden worktables, a fold-out chair slashed with paint, cans and glasses filled with pencils and brushes, a broom and a basketball and a stuffed toy orca, a cushioned bench large enough to stretch out on, and, arrayed everywhere on the walls, his many paintings. Sweatt has painted people as his subjects for much of his career, which has included exhibitions throughout town. But in the last few years, his interest has shifted to landscapes, to which he has dedicated a whole studio wall — paintings of a river bed, the underside of a viaduct, patches of greenery wrapping around a highway. One of the paintings resembles a close-up of ducks splashing in a stream, but Sweatt says he saw the ducks in a drainage ditch. "It's not always about bringing attention to beautiful things," Sweatt says. "It's about bringing attention to ugly things as well." Recently, Sweatt started painting in Shawnee Park, where he is showing me his method of capturing a landscape. He tries coming to the park every other day, usually about 8 a.m., armed with the sketchbook he balances upon one forearm, while his other hand holds a green crayon that skips and slashes across the page. He brings forth the angle of the path, the slant of the brush piles, the trees rising at a diagonal. "Triangles lead viewers into the picture. One triangle creates another triangle. See?" he says. "And there are certain branches I may accentuate to lead the viewer all through it, to make you dance." Birds caw in the chilled distance. A line of geese swims overhead, a dark triangle heading south. "When I'm painting, I'll stop thinking and it's like someone else is painting for me," he says. "I'm changing colors in my head to emphasize certain things." For Sweatt, a painting doesn't have to originate with a sketch — a facsimile to reference later for accuracy — but can instead come from how he was feeling as he worked. Tomorrow, he might come back and find the scene transformed. "And when I go back to the studio, I'm trying to remember how I felt about it, and it becomes harder," he says. "I have all these philosophies I go by, and one I'm really big into is: 'I don't know.'" Sweatt laughs. He says it again: "I don't know." After Sweatt sketches across a few different pages, we stroll down some steps nearby, descending into a tunnel of woodland that, on a clear day, would have looked onto the Ohio River. Wisped in fog, the trees are spectral. "at's how I approach things: 'I don't know.' It's just seeing, and simplifying things. at's what makes life easy, when you stop adding complex things into it," he says. He shoots

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