Artist based in Miami, FL

Zoe Schweiger Fall 2023 Innovate Grant Recipient
Zoe Schweiger, Portrait of the Artist

Tell us about yourself, what's your background?

Making drawings and paintings has always been an integral part of my life. My mother studied Art History in school and my father has always been very into photography. They raised me and my brother in Miami, Florida where I attended New World School of the Arts for high-school. It was there where my teachers pushed me to make work in a super fast paced environment and I fell in love with making and drawing. Although I loved to paint, I was very intrigued by the possibilities of sculpture, and decided to major in sculpture at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland, for my BFA. Throughout my time there I made wearable soft sculptures for a little while, switched back to painting, dabbled in digital collage and mixed media, and then focused on creating a series of videos for my thesis that were projected onto walls in a way that emulated painting. After I graduated in 2022, I decided to focus fully on painting and am very appreciative for my studies in sculptural practices and plan to eventually merge the mediums later in my career.

Zoe Schweiger Fall 2023 Innovate Grant Recipient
Consumed By A Red Bay, Acrylic on canvas, 40" x 60", 2022

"Currently, I’m working on a series of paintings of my family and friends that highlight the environmental effects of the climate crisis in South Florida. I’m interested in painting my loved ones as if caught in a flood, their bodies distorted by water or blurred by humidity."

Zoe Schweiger Fall 2023 Innovate Grant Recipient
The Embrace III, Acrylic on canvas, 48” x 72”, 2023

What are you currently working on and where did the inspiration for it come from?

Currently, I’m working on a series of paintings of my family and friends that highlight the environmental effects of the climate crisis in South Florida. I’m interested in painting my loved ones as if caught in a flood, their bodies distorted by water or blurred by humidity. I paint using a quickness in my brushstrokes, keeping the paintings fluid and loose, while using bright reds, oranges, and greens to reflect Miami’s increasingly hot climate and the murkiness of a warming and rising sea. I originally began working with this concept in 2020 after the pandemic started and I was back home in Miami for quarantine after living in Baltimore for school. While living at home I felt the intensity of the climate crisis more than ever. I was feeling uncertain about my future, about the future of my home, and felt the pressing need to make work that reflected those feelings. I’m not sure what these painting can really do other than add to the growing conversation around climate change, but I intend to continue this series and see where it can go.

Zoe Schweiger Fall 2023 Innovate Grant Recipient
'Suzi In The Bay', 2023, Arylic on canvas, 48" x 60"
Image of the painting 'Suzi In The Bay' in progess

Innovation does not only happen in the field of technology — it occurs everyday in a creative practice. What do you do for inspiration?

I’m very inspired by South Florida’s environment. I don’t necessarily spend a ton of time outside but I’m always paying attention to our climate. I find inspiration in the Royal Palm Trees that line the streets, the sounds and smells of the bay as its waves crash onto sea walls, the invasive iguanas that have taken over my family’s yard. I’m also very inspired by my friend and fellow artist, Susan Kim Alvarez. Whenever I’m feeling unsure about my work or need critique I go to her. Her work and practice has been a constant inspiration since we met in school and we always give each other honest feedback.

Studio Views

Where do ideas start for you? In the studio or being in the world?

My ideas usually start just from observing my environment, or can be spurred by a certain feeling. Right now I want my paintings to look wet and sweaty and that kinda just came to me during the summer when it was like 90 degrees everyday. Some of my paintings include motifs of plants, iguanas, hoses, and lawn chairs. I’m interested in pulling in bits and pieces of my indoor and outdoor environments to create something that can be a bit uncanny but also recognizable, especially to people who live in more tropical environments.

Closeup of 'A Burning Sense of Urgency'

How do you make your work, does it start with a sketch? 

II usually start my process with free writing. I'll write in my sketchbook or on my computer and just try to write what I’m feeling about my work, what I want to make and what I am making. I write words or motifs I’m interested in painting, colors I want to use, feelings I want to reflect. From there I start my paintings by loosely using a photo reference. For a while I was photographing my friends and family underwater, using my families pool, and directing little scenes. We put a few chairs under, or a beach towel, one time we brought in a palm frond. Im drawn to the way the water literally warps the figure when the photograph is taken above the water. After taking a bunch of photos I go through them and look for images I feel are visually appealing, usually determined by a certain facial expression or how wonky the image is.

Closeup of 'Suzi In The Bay'

From there I draw lots of little thumbnails in my sketchbook, lightly plan out the composition, and then just start painting on the canvas! I let it be slightly intuitive, I like to work based on color and lately have been starting my paintings with my favorite paint from Golden: Quinacridone/ Nickel Azo, which I think may have been discontinued. I'll work my way into using cadmium red and then will add contrast and accents using a phthalo blue. I’m very attached to my colors and intend to play a little more with my color choices eventually but for now I’m enjoying these three. I work with acrylic paint and like to water it down to get that slightly translucent feeling on the canvas.

Zoe Schweiger Fall 2023 Innovate Grant Recipient
Where Algae Floats Past, Acrylic on canvas, 40" x 30", 2023

Many artists live by their routines, do you have your own studio or work ritual? What does that look like for you?

I prefer to paint mid afternoon/ evening and I always listen to music in the studio. I know its bad for me but my favorite thing is putting on my earphones and blasting my music so its super loud. What I listen to depends on my mood, I'll go from listening to Beyonce to Eryka Badu to Mort Garson’s Plantasia in one sitting. Usually I work on one painting at a time and aim to make about 2 to 3 finished paintings a week.

Zoe Schweiger Fall 2023 Innovate Grant Recipient
Dad, Submerged, 2023, Acrylic on canvas, 24" x 20"

Who are your biggest influences?

Right now I’m really in love with the works of Christina Quarles, Jennifer Packer, Doron Langberg, and Catalina Ouyang. Some of my earlier influences include Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Saville, and Sarah Lucas.

Are there books or films that are an important source of inspiration?

Some books I’ve recently read that have really made an impact on me are Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Disposable City by Mario Alejandro Ariza, and On Fire by Naomi Klein. I’m not sure if there are any specific movies that have been super influential but I’ve always loved the surreal and strange worlds that Hayao Miyazaki creates in his Studio Ghibli movies.

'Under Warm Water', Spinello Projects, Miami, FL, Photo taken by Michael R Lopez

How will Innovate Grant contribute to your practice?

Innovate Grant will support me in funding my practice so I can continue to make paintings that will lead to new growth and experimentation.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

I think some of the best advice I’ve been given is to just make stuff and not think too hard about it. Ive spent a lot time overthinking and not making anything because I've been worried that the concept won’t come across or that the work isn't doing what I want it to do. Sometimes you just gotta make things and the language will come to you eventually.

What is the best advice you would give to other artists?

I would probably say the same! I would also say to make sure you’re not making work alone. Go to gallery openings, bring friends over and ask for feedback, watch Art21 videos, and have conversations with artists about their practice. I think it's important to build community, and artists can get stuck in their own head. Either way, making art is more fun when you’re doing it with other people too!

Zoe Schweiger Fall 2023 Innovate Grant Recipient
A Burning Sense of Urgency, 2023, Acrylic on canvas, 72" x 60"

Stay up to date with Zoe Schweiger
Instagram @zoesschweiger