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Cherry Sweig

Galloping into the past: Poway artist rescues rare Greek horses with her paintings

By KIRBY FAIRFAX - For the North County Times | Saturday, June 21, 2008

Poway artist Cherry Sweig with a Skyrian small horse named "Sunshine," at The Silva Estate in Corfu, Greece. Sweig specializes in painting the endangered horses. Courtesy photo.

"Ikaros 440BC," a painting by Poway artist Cherry Sweig, of Ikaros, the Skyrian foal she adopted at the Silva Project. The painting reflects the horse's similarity to the ancient Greek horse statues (dated 440 BC) in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece. Courtesy photo.

"Seven Horse Beach," an oil painting by Poway artist Cherry Sweig, depicting a herd of Skyrian small horses running on the beach in Corfu, Greece. The painting represents the horse breed's race against time and extinction. Courtesy photo.

Poway artist Cherry Sweig is so passionate about her favorite subject, a disappearing breed of Hellenic horses, that she is breaking the first rule of gallery-going ---- thou shalt not touch ---- by encouraging her viewers to enjoy not only a visual, but a tactile interaction with her tapestry-style artwork of the pony-sized creatures.

Three of her canvas scrolls of the diminutive but powerful horses are on display in the fine arts section at the San Diego County Fair Del Mar (which runs through July 6). Visitors will find life-sized portraits of her beloved equines ---- portrayed in the softness of oil with strong affection and obvious admiration ---- cavorting against rough backdrops of crushed pumice and garnets.

"I am trying to place them in a historical context that links their ancestral background with today, so I set them against the stones of antiquity ---- because these horses are connected to an older time ---- with their wild manes, which make them look as if they are having perpetually bad hair days (sort of like dreadlocks), deep chestnut coats and dark, expressive eyes," Sweig observed, adding that in her paintings, the horses appear to be dashing through the centuries in a rush to be noticed, and preserved.

For, according to DNA testing, the breed is not genetically related to any of its modern-day counterparts but dates from at least the time of Alexander the Great. And Sweig said research supports the theory that it may be among the earliest of all European species of horses. This particular type of hipparion (the technical term for a horse of this size), despite having thrived for millenniums, is now in danger of becoming extinct.

The artist explained that she was first introduced to the Skyrian horse (named for the Greek island of Skyros, on which it was discovered running wild a number of years ago) and its plight when she went to Greece to paint in 2005. A lover of all things equine since she had owned a Welsh pony as a child, as well as a history buff who was Greek by marriage, Sweig first found herself fascinated by a frieze of the animal's putative forerunners carved on the Parthenon in Athens. Seeing Sweig's interest in the Skyrian horses, a relative told her about a nearby art exhibit dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the modern-day remnants of that proud lineage.

When she attended the art show, she met one of its artists and sponsors, Aliki Steen, whose family had founded an ongoing Skyrian rescue operation, The Silva Project, on their 50-acre estate on the Ionian isle of Corfu. Steen immediately invited Sweig to come and sketch the 40-plus beasts now grazing and galloping safely on their property. (That figure is up from the mere 10 or so that had been found in a rapidly degrading habitat before the program's inception in 1996, Sweig noted.)

When the artist first saw them, she recalled, it was love at first whinny.

"It was like being surrounded by a pack of golden retriever puppies ---- they were so lovable and adorable. One, Isabella, who is the project's mascot and spokeshorse, has one light blue eye and one brownish-black one, and she came up to me and tried to nibble on my canvas. I was instantly moved by the stunning and prehistoric qualities of these horses that reflected their struggle to survive as an ancient breed."

For somewhere in that process they were domesticated, and for hundreds of years they were used successfully in agriculture. But eventually the small horses became obsolete, undervalued and ignored.

"The Greeks didn't seem to understand the importance of biodiversity and keeping the bloodline pure," the artist added, as some of the locals were beginning to breed the Skyrians with mules to make them more suitable for farming. (In fact, two of the original four horses adopted by the Steens were in a state of mixed-breed pregnancy.)

The Silva Project is run by Sylvia Steen, Aliki's mother, a special-needs doctor who finds the mild and sweet temperament of the creatures makes them natural candidates for hippotherapy (in which a person bonds with a horse for emotional support), Sweig said. A drive is under way to build a state-of-the-art equestrian center for the now-growing Skyrian population on what is currently a 25-acre kiwi farm, also on Corfu.

Finally, the horses are up for adoption; Sweig happily sends support money for her chosen steed, Icarus. "I hope more people want to become involved, especially college students who might be interested in learning more about endangered species," she noted.

To promote her cause, the artist travels to Greece each fall to paint and exhibit. As she has for the past two years, this fall she will again take part in the annual Horse Art exhibition in Athens at which she first found herself captivated by what has become her driving passion. (She is the only American to have her work shown there, accompanied by some 20 European artists.)

Sweig was also featured in the April issue of Horses in Art, a Jamul-based national magazine, in an article titled "Saving Ancient Hellenic Horses Through Art." And she is participating, along with 237 other painters from around the globe, in the creation of an online equine mosaic due for completion later this year. Her square will feature a portrait of Bucephalus, Alexander the Great's mount, in honor of his struggling descendants.

A graduate of San Diego State Univ. whose work is shown widely, Sweig is listed in Who's Who of Women in American Art and recently exhibited at the Grand National Horse Show in San Francisco. She regularly donates a percentage of her profits to support charitable causes, including The Silva Project.

Horses in Art: April 08: Click hereHorses_in_Art_Magazine.html

Del Mar Times:  July 11 08

Cherry Sweig has participated in numerous areas of the art world, from video game designer to art curator.

Artist finds her strength working in diverse media

By Marti Gacioch

Cherry Sweig's paintings give new meaning to the term artistic diversity. Whether she's creating color-splashed plein air works of California and beyond, gyotaku (nature imprints), scroll paintings, custom tile murals or oils of endangered equines, Sweig has mastered them all.

"I have a lot of diverse styles, but I have noticed that each of the styles helps each other," she said. "When I paint oils and I go back to watercolors, my watercolors are better, so I believe that each of the mediums enhance each other."

Sweig has painted since an early age, and she has her first mentor, Sylvia Love, to thank for it. Love was her grandmother's cousin and an impressionistic colorist painter.

"She painted like Monet and enrolled me in art classes at 15," said Sweig. "She took me painting plein air with her, and at times I feel like I'm painting like her."

Sweig considers herself a "colorist."

"A colorist means you use color to evoke an emotion," she said. "Colorists study the relationships of complimentary colors, the tertiary colors and all the different colors of the color wheel and then go through values and how they bounce off next to each other."

A graduate of San Diego State University with a degree in graphic design and fine art, Sweig has had a varied career, including video game designer, advertising art director and art curator, but she now prefers working in the solitude of her own Poway studio.

Sweig enjoys painting the atmosphere and spirit of the places she visits, and she's covered a good part of the globe. A frequent visitor to Europe, she will soon spend another month there, painting in Belgium, Spain and France. Next year, her painting itinerary includes Peru where she will meet up with other artists to do sketchbook paintings of Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. She hopes to visit China and Thailand in the future.

A visit to Greece inspired Sweig to help save the endangered small horses of Skyros Island, and she works with the Silva Project to raise funds to aid this vanishing breed. Her philanthropic efforts also cross over into her artistic life. This year she won an Honorable Mention ribbon at the San Diego County Fair for "Corfu Zephyr," a Skyrian horse portrait.

While Sweig's favorite artists include John Singer Sergeant, Monet and Cezanne, Georgia O'Keefe is at the top of her list.

"We both grew up in the same area of Wisconsin and like me she was the youngest of five children," said Sweig. "She was also an Episcopalian, and she worked as a commercial artist, which was my degree."

A longtime muralist, Sweig developed her own special take on the art form after she grew tired of spending long hours painting murals in client's homes. Instead, she devised custom-painted scrolls on heavy canvases in her studio. After painting a movable mural, she hangs it on a drapery rod three inches away from the wall to create a three-dimensional effect.

The time frame for completing a scroll painting depends on how much input Sweig receives from a client. While she can complete one in less than two weeks, a scroll painting of Venice took her several months to finish because her client provided a great deal of input.

"My goal is for the client to be absolutely thrilled," she said. "That's so important to me."

Sweig recently returned from traveling the California coast where she worked on her "Coast 22" series, which she hopes to debut in October. The display will showcase 22 of her plein air works of the scenic California coastline in oils, watercolors and pastels. Sweig admits that she may have underestimated the scope of painting the coast.

"I realized that it's going to take me a lifetime to paint the California coast because it is so amazing," she said.

Sweig is now preparing her entries for "Summer in the Ranch," the Rancho Santa Fe Art Guild's exhibit that runs from July 8 through Sept. 6. One of her paintings will focus on Mille Fleurs, her favorite restaurant, while other works will center on the village's majestic eucalyptus trees.

At the guild's "Finer Art Affaire" on Sept. 7, Sweig will showcase her work in two booths — one for her oils and one for her watercolors. She'll show 50 paintings from her portfolio, including new works inspired by her European travels.

‘Around the World in 80 Paintings’:                                                         The La Jolla Light,                                                 The Bishop’s School Alumni News              &The Pomerado News Group: Click here   80Press.html

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