“My subjects are often in states of joy or pensive states or at peace, which to me didn’t necessarily feel like protest art at the time, but as I was creating it, others started to recognize it that way,” says the Petworth-based artist.
Swindell’s vivid illustrations illuminate a world where Black people are celebrated not targeted. One of her works, titled “BLM,” shows a Black woman standing stoically wearing a shirt with the names of the Black lives lost to senseless violence. She’s showered in a cascade of red flowers against a medley of pink and blue shades, accentuating her neon-pink hair and drawing further attention to the trauma and tragedy impacting the lives of Black Americans.
A D.C. native, Swindell worked in the art and design worlds in Los Angeles and New York before settling in her hometown, where she balances her time between freelance artwork and her day job at an international health nonprofit organization.
“I’m inspired by human resilience and our way of finding peace in difficulty,” she says. “Whenever I see things through that, that rawness of that, that’s something I really like to draw and bring out some hope for people in difficult times.”
Swindell’s dream day peels the curtain back on the people and places that drive her creative inspirations.
I have two small children — a 15-month-old and a 3-year-old. I’d make some coffee and snacks, and we would head over to the [U.S. National] Arboretum. They’re at an age where open space is enough joy for them. It’s just beautiful and I’m so inspired by nature creatively. It would ideally be a spring day or a nice warm day in May.
If I’m going out to brunch, I have a nostalgic place I go to which is Booeymonger in Friendship Heights. There are a few other locations, but this particular location is where my sister and brother worked when they were in high school. They’re older than me, so I’d always go visit them, and my dad loved the breakfast there. My parents would meet up with us — I know my dad always gets the same thing (Mr. B’s French toast). They have different breads, but I love French baguettes. They have sandwiches called the Ace and Tuna Turner, which I always add bacon to.
After that, my parents would take my kids, and I would take the Red Line to Dupont Circle. One of my favorite museums is the Phillips Collection. There’s a permanent collection of Jacob Lawrence’s “The Migration Series,” and it’s a series of paintings that he made about the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North. At a really young age, that exhibit just hit me in so many ways. The style of the piece and the storytelling of it influence my work. There’s also another room called the Rothko Room, which is a small room of Mark Rothko’s paintings. You don’t really get to see his art in that way. His use of color is all about emotion.
After the museum, I would walk around Dupont. I have some items that are sold at Shop Made in DC, and I’d probably pop by there because I always love seeing if there are new makers. They do a good job of bringing in local makers who don’t necessarily get a ton of exposure. My husband is from North Carolina, so if I were in that neighborhood, I would also go to the Krispy Kreme. It’s a real treat if there’s a bad day or a celebration.
I usually don’t do two museums in one day, but I would probably walk through the National Portrait Gallery to at least see the atrium and the gift shop. At that point in the day, with friends, I’d probably want to stop by Oyamel Cocina Mexicana and have a margarita. I love all of José Andrés’s restaurants in general. I just think they add a different flavor to the Penn Quarter neighborhood. The other fun thing about being at Oyamel is that I did a mural for Woolly Mammoth Theatre that’s right next to it, so I get to have a drink while looking right at it! It’s a Black joy mural, in a sense, just a woman holding a flower and at peace. I did that after the protests [of George Floyd’s killing] happened, and they had to board up.
Before covid, if it’s a Friday, I would walk down to Jazz in the Garden at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. It’s casual, it’s free and it’s the perfect meetup with friends. I love sushi, and there’s a spot [near] U Street called Sakerum [which has permanently closed] where I would go for happy hour. The ambiance of the space is so nice — they have a top floor where they have their happy hours and it has a retractable roof.
It was closed when I was a kid, but in the ’50s, my dad told me these stories about how he would spend the whole day on U Street, first catching a show at the Howard Theatre, then see a movie at Booker-T Theatre, and then go back and catch the evening show at the Howard Theatre. To end my perfect day, I would go to the Howard Theatre and see one of my favorite neo-soul artists from the ’90s. Then I would pop in an Uber and head back home — and hopefully, someone is still babysitting my children.