Earl Swanigan, Outsider Artist

7/30/14 Hudson, NY

"Earl", the manner in which he signs his primitive paintings created on recycled & found materials, is Hudson's own "Artist-in-Residence". His "gallery" is all along Warren street where he is seen carrying a selection of his recent work.

Interview & Photos: Kate Orne


Earl Swanigan offering his paintings to a customer at Le Gamin, Hudson, NY

UD:  I hear people will travel up from NYC to buy your paintings.

ES:  Yeah, there are like movie stars and that TV lady who spent time in prison…. Martha Stewart….who buy my paintings. There are some galleries in town that have more than 100 of my paintings. Unless I piss someone off, people buy my stuff. [Laughs]

Cats Galore by Earl Swanigan. Courtesy of Arenskjold Antiques, Hudson, NY

Alfalfa from 1930s Little Rascals TV show (left), Unknown Title (right). Courtesy of Arenskjold Antiques, Hudson, NY

UD:  You also spent time in prison….

ES:  In my 30’s I was still too impatient to continue doing what I was supposed to do, work on my art. So I stopped and got into some illegal stuff, dealing drugs, and ended up in prison for 5 1/2 years. Looking back, I could have made way more money doing my art than selling drugs. That’s probably the only thing I regret in my life.

UD:  You are originally from Mississippi — what brought you to the Hudson Valley?

ES:  My wife had family in the area that we used to visit, and then at one point we just stayed. I like the people in this town, they helped me get to where I am today. Now I can do my work, and sell my paintings not only by walking up and down Warren Street but also to the local stores and galleries. Here I can make money being an artist.

There are also a whole lot of older "cats" here in town. I sit down and watch them, some of the stuff they do just blows my mind! I don’t know it all since I never went to art school, so the more experienced guys give me pointers and stuff and that inspires me to continue working hard at it. They give me encouragement.

But there are also some people who have tried to take my work away from me; that has been happening a lot. You know you got some good people and then you got some bad ones.

Isaac Hayes by Earl Swanigan Courtesy of Arenskjold Antiques, Hudson, NY

UD:  How would someone try to take your work away from you?

ES:  I’ve sold paintings and then the buyer publishes it in a book or something without asking my permission. Only because they bought the painting doesn’t mean they own the copyright, that’s the kind of people I don’t like. I don’t mind people using my paintings when they ask for my permission. Just give me a chance to say “Yes” or “No”.

Evil Cat 2014 by Earl Swanigan. Courtesy of Gottlieb Gallery, Hudson, NY

An outsider artist with an outside studio.

UD:  What inspired you to become an artist?

ES:  My uncle got me started when I was around ten years old; he would draw out pictures of bunnies and stuff, walk out of the room, and I would trace his drawing. He returned to see what I’d done and said — “If you want to be an artist, you shouldn’t copy other artists. Instead, you got to concentrate hard. You go and get a sharp pencil, make sure it has an eraser on the end of it, just in case you mess up then you try again and again until you get good at it”.

                 Werewolf by Earl Swanigan.  Courtesy of Arenskjold Antiques, Hudson, NY

UD:  You paint a wide range of things…

ES:  A lot of ideas for my animal paintings come from hanging out with my grandkids. They do the funniest things. Since I like doing things differently than other artists, I paint animals wearing shoes, kissing, playing the guitar, dancing or something. Now lots of people commission me to paint their pets. I also do famous people or characters like Obama, Spock, Buckwheat or historical figures, but they don’t sell as well as my animal paintings. And then these other paintings that are darker and raunchier…. people seem to like that too [Laughs]. My wife doesn’t like those; I have come home, and my paintings are on the lawn…..So now I only hang portraits of my grandkids; my wife likes those [Laughs].

Earl Swanigan working in his outdoor studio in front of his apartment

UD:  Are there any other questions you think I should ask?

ES:  No, you asked all the same questions everyone else asked me.

To buy or commissions paintings, contact Earl Swanigan 518-697-9561

Cats Galore and Werewolf  are available at 1stdibs.

"Evil Cat" available at 1stdibs.

A wider selection of Earl's work is available atArenskjold.com