rhian swain exhibit

Female artists at center of art exhibition

Rhian Swain has met few people who can name more than one or two significant female artists.

When asked the names of famous artists, most people  — unless they are part of the art world — can probably rattle off a few names. Of those, however, most of them would likely be male artists with a only few mentions of women such as Frida Kahlo or Georgia O’Keefe, she said.

“There are some amazing female artists,” said Swain, who has showcased women in her Breaking the Barriers — Women Who Impacted The Arts exhibition, which runs through Saturday, March 25, at the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History.

Rhian Swain’s portrait of Yayoi Kusama. Photo courtesy Rhian Swain

The exhibition features 13 portraits of female artists. Not only has Swain captured their likenesses on canvas, but she’s painted them in the style they are known for and included shades of their work in hers.

Among the women she highlights are Yayoi Kusama, the 98 year-old Japanese artist known for her bold polka dots; Kara Walker, an African American artist who uses silhouettes to depict themes of racism and inequality; and Helen Frankenthaler, a pioneer of color abstract expressionism.

Not only did Swain learn about the lives and art of these women, but she learned about styles she wasn’t as familiar with. She even took classes at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art to strengthen her skills.  

“I saw a lot of growth in my own art,” said Swain.

Some of the things she’s learned will probably continue to impact her own technique for years to come, she said, particularly the works of Louise Bourgeois.

 They “blew me away,” she said.

The prolific artist who died in 2010 painted for 80 years. She created a vast amount of work dealing with a variety of subjects, but she’s well-known for her large spider sculptures.

Georgia O’Keefe by Rhian Swain

 Also included in the exhibition are two prominent Augusta women artists, Lillie Morris and Staci Swider. Each of these women have their own distinct styles. In painting Morris, Swain had to stretch herself to be able to duplicate Morris’ abstract direction.  And Swider incorporates her background in textile design into her paintings.

Morris and Swider will be part of a panel discussion and reception at the Laney Museum from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Not only did Swain paint the works, she drew coloring sheets for students from the Jessye Norman School for the Arts who will be viewing the exhibition.

Swain received a grant through the Greater Augusta Arts Council for the project. The council had received funds from the National Endowment for the Arts as part of the American Rescue Plan and distributed them to local artists.

After the exhibition comes down, Swain would like to take it to other galleries in the country for display.

Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Subscribe to the newsletter here.

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