The Creationists

Still Life with Kurt Swinghammer

September 14, 2021 Steve Waxman Episode 37
The Creationists
Still Life with Kurt Swinghammer
Show Notes Transcript

In the late 1980s and early 90s, Kurt Swinghammer’s artwork became synonymous with the city Toronto as well as the Canadian hip hop scene. Art critics dubbed it  neo-primitive and his abstract work could be found on radio station logos, business signs and in music videos. His bold improvised artwork eventually  became ubiquitous and a go to stile in the advertising world.

 Kurt Swinghammer has had an extraordinary creative career that has encompassed both the visual arts and music. The artwork he first gained recognition for took visual clues from folk art from around the world and Saturday morning cartoons of the sixties. Over the past decade he has developed a more mannered graphic of painting that began with his Red Canoe series. 

 Kurt was kind enough to invite me to interview him in his downtown Toronto studio which is where we sat surrounded by paint splattered easels and original works of art, paintings of melting icebergs, canoes floating by forests, a psychedelic portrait of Scotty, the mascot from the Canadian Tire hardware store, a painting from his Red Canoe series and his latest work of wood carvings hung on the wall. Over the course of our wide ranging interview Kurt shared stories of his sister taking his cardboard sculpture of a telephone to school for show and tell when Kurt was 4. He also shares the story of selling his first work when he was 15 and why art and music became his salvations.

If you would like to check out Kurt Swinghammer’s art, I’ve posted photos of a number of pieces discussed in this episode on The Creationists Podcast page on Facebook and Instagram. You can purchase his work through or you can visit his website Also, Kurt’s music can be heard on all streaming platforms.

Read the transcript of this interview at

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for future guests, please contact us at

The Creationists is mastered in post production by Paul Farrant.

The Creationists is recorded and edited by Steve Waxman. Theme music performed by Steve Waxman.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, Kurt Swinghammer’s artwork became synonymous with the city Toronto as well as the Canadian hip hop scene. Art critics dubbed it  neo-primitive and his abstract work could be found on radio station logos, business signs and in music videos. His bold improvised artwork eventually  became ubiquitous and a go to stile in the advertising world.

 Kurt Swinghammer has had an extraordinary creative career that has encompassed both the visual arts and music. The artwork he first gained recognition for took visual clues from folk art from around the world and Saturday morning cartoons of the sixties. Over the past decade he has developed a more mannered graphic of painting that began with his Red Canoe series. 

 Kurt was kind enough to invite me to interview him in his downtown Toronto studio which is where we sat surrounded by paint splattered easels and original works of art, paintings of melting icebergs, canoes floating by forests, a psychedelic portrait of Scotty, the mascot from the Canadian Tire hardware store, a painting from his Red Canoe series and his latest work of wood carvings hung on the wall. Over the course of our wide ranging interview Kurt shared stories of his sister taking his cardboard sculpture of a telephone to school for show and tell when Kurt was 4. He also shares the story of selling his first work when he was 15 and why art and music became his salvations.

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Steve Waxman:  Where does the inspiration for your artwork come from and how does it start?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Yeah, I generally start through drawing, sketching. And that's the one constant no matter what it's for.  You know, a painting, a fine art type of thing or if it's a commercial project, because I do illustrations for different things and animation. But I search through drawing so that connects me to how I first started when I was a little little kid, you know, with crayons and pencils. So it's been something that is very grounding and it's not using any heavy technology, so I feel very connected to it. And I explore thumbnail sketches and just try to do as many as possible to find a composition, or to find a subject. So that's been the way for me.

Steve Waxman:  But what is inspiring these sketches?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Well, that depends on what I'm searching for and sometimes it can be nothing. Just like improvising in music, it can be just starting and going and seeing where you go. But at this point in my life, I usually know what I'm shooting for. And that idea might be something that I've just been thinking a lot about and so it can be a very cerebral process of having a conceptual thing that you want to visualize. And I sort of need to have layers of ideas that resonate with me, as opposed to just a pretty picture, you know. But, okay, so I've got an idea, what image will support that idea to express an idea, but not necessarily the idea doesn't have to dominate so that it's completely obvious to the viewer. Maybe the viewer doesn't know or they can decide for themselves what the image evokes, you know. But, for me, it's got to resonate for me and the image has to solve a need that I have to express something.

Steve Waxman:  Well, how long will an idea live in your head before you finally get to the point of trying to make it reality?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Well, sometimes a long time, other times things come...there's no one path, and over the course of my life I've found that the process changes and evolves in maybe work that I did when I was in my teens, say, comes back, you know, decades later, and oh here's a bit, I've got to explore this thing again. But these days I am pursuing content that I also feel will resonate with the public, because I need to support my family, you know. I have a child to support and my partner. There's definitely a need to be able to get rid of work. And that's the joke, that's the one course they don't teach at art college, what do you do with paintings that don't sell. And it becomes a kind of an issue. And it's the saddest thing that every decade, maybe you have to go 'Okay, I guess it's time to trash this work that you couldn't get rid of.' Fortunately, now I've kind of found a groove where I am not accumulating a ton of work which is just sitting around. I found a type of visual vocabulary that people like to live with. So, fortunately, the work’s getting out there.

Steve Waxman:  So you brought up something I never would have thought of, what do you do at that point? I mean, what is trashing artwork? Is it just painting it over white and starting all over again or is it actually throwing it out?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Yeah, there's a famous story of Michael Snow, who was one of my heroes really in the art world, and music and film and everything. When he was living in Toronto in the sixties, he walked past a famous New York artist's studio, and I forget who it was, Rothko or some heavyweight, you know, and he found some canvases that had been thrown out, and they were not great paintings but he took them and apparently it was kind of a scandal because the artist didn't intend for anyone just to recognize all this is somebody's and this could be valuable. But, you know, recycling is definitely one thing. With my work now I can't paint on top of a bumpy canvas but Picasso could and he did rework his work, you know, there's so many cases of paintings on top of paintings to salvage the material because you know, these days a canvas can cost you 100 bucks so that's not something you just can throw away easily. But I've definitely edited work from the past, things that feel, oh this is not great, I don't want anyone to really to see this at this point and so I've destroyed work for sure.

Steve Waxman:  Is there pre planning when you've got your sketch,and you're about to delve into turning your thoughts and your ideas into reality? Is there pre planning that goes along with that or do you just go?.

Kurt Swinghammer:  Well, I think everybody's different. I tend to just sketch and then go once I've found compositions. But I don't get obsessed with trying to copy. The sketches are just to establish very basic compositional things going on. And, yeah, I mean, with the work I'm doing now choices are made all the time while doing it while executing in terms of color and placement of things. But because I don't want to waste the $100 canvas, I do know where I'm going, you know, before I start. But in the past I have done work which is totally sorted of, you know, an abstract expressionism idea where you just go and you improvise. And I remember hearing about artists in the far north who were working with whalebone materials from their immediate environment and the stories of the person who would stare at the whalebone for extended periods of time until the image revealed itself and then they would carve what they saw being revealed. And I remember going through being very inspired by that, creating a ground on a canvas that was just texture, and then doing that type of oh, what can I pull out of that, you know, so there's so many different ways to approach work.

Steve Waxman:  So, when I look at a painting, I try to figure out where the first brushstroke is and how it all begins. So, for you as the artist, I feel really fortunate being here, inside your space, when you're standing in front of the white canvas, what is the first move?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Right. Well, again, depending on what you're doing the work I'm doing now I do a very loose underpainting, sort of like the sketch, but the scale of the canvas so the basic composition I might rough in. I did this one image called the Red Canoe for quite a while, and the composition was repeated every time exactly the same and the color relationships changed, and that was at a point when I was doing so much TV and film music that for my art I didn't want to think about what I had to do. I just wanted to paint. So it became sort of more like knitting or, you know, sort of a craft almost. But it was a pleasure because I didn't have to think, 'What am I going to paint today? Well I'm going to paint this thing where there's a template.' And I trace that out exactly every time, the canoe, and then the colors I would just improvise and respond. And when you put them side by side, these paintings, they look quite different because it's really about the color, but the structure was similar. And there's many, many cases in contemporary art where people repeat. People always think of Warhol but, you know, the silkscreen thing is a little different. But Donald Judd is this minimalist sculptor and he just did these boxes and every gallery's got the same Donald Judd piece. But it goes back to how Monet would do, you know, thirty paintings of a church, or things like a lily pond.

Steve Waxman:  Well, okay, so to that end, I want to talk about this graphic style that you're doing right now. When did it start? When did you start doing it? How did it become the style that you're currently using?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Yeah, well I have always had a deep appreciation for graphic art and design and illustration, and I never really thought it was any lesser than the fine art. And many examples of even people like Tom Thomson who I reference a lot in my work, he was also a graphic artist to cut the bills, right. He was doing window displays at Eaton's or whatever and calendars and things. So, over the years, I've done a lot of CD covers and LP covers and things like that and logos and stuff. But this current style initiated with a CD cover actually for a band called Kitchen Music. Dan Goldman, a beautiful composer, guitarist, singer-songwriter from Montreal put this album out and Michael Phillip Wojewoda mixed it and Michael's a dear friend, he's worked on a lot of my music as a producer and mixer and so I said well I'll do the cover, you know, I'd love to do it. And it's a totally indie project. There's no bread or anything but I just went and created a really lovely cover with a booklet and everything. And one of the images was this canoe that related to the lyrical content. And when I did it, it was just a tiny little eight inch painting. And I thought ‘Oh, there's something there.’ And so,  I think, a couple years went by and I kept on looking at this thing and thought I better develop it, and over many years it developed into what became this ongoing series called The Red Canoe. And technically, it kept on evolving, and I found ways to create more depth and the colors receding this way. It's a very technical way to approach mixing color as well as perspective, you know. The waves recede because of the size but more importantly the color recedes, and that's just a very labor intensive technique that nobody wants to do and that's why they don't look like anybody else's paintings because they're very, very labor intensive. And I thought it was a very fresh modern way to depict a pretty trad subject matter, you know. And once I established that vocabulary, I felt, well, if I do another series, a different subject matter, it needs to relate so it doesn't look like a completely different artist did it of course. So, I've been since searching for ways to explore that and that's become this stuff (pointing to a picture of a canoe floating by a forest). I think they make great companions and it's very similar but in this case, which brushstroke comes first is actually the ones in the background, and that took me a while to figure out. There are four canvases in the dumpster now but because it was a real different way to paint. I had to rethink everything and go backwards and put the backing vocals down first kind of thing, right, and then build up from that, because that's the only way you could do it technically. So, different subject matter, different techniques they all require a different approach. And sometimes what you would think would be the last breaststroke would actually be the first. It sort of depends.

Steve Waxman:  So, as you were developing what kind of mistakes were you making at first?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Well, it was a new way of expressing this idea of  forest and what I need to do is something that, to feel like it's worthwhile, is to do something that hasn't been done before. And I have never seen a forest rendered like that before. And people are responding to it. It's got energy and it's fresh and it's graphic. You know, I have no interest in trying to be realistic. That's been done. It can be done fabulously but with cameras and so it's to try to find a personal modern way to depict this subject matter. But I'm finding there's tons to explore and, for me, the canoe, it's symbolic for me. And I'm calling this series, the Northern Ark because it's kind of a survival arc, like an escape from global warming and things. That's what it's about for me and the whole water thing I've been exploring, to me it's this existential crisis that we're in and it's because in a lot of the water pieces there's no indication of land anywhere, you know. So it's more about that. It's about that kind of crisis. And the Ark is like, 'Okay if we all get on board the ark, maybe we can ride it out for 40 days, if we're lucky.'

Steve Waxman:  It looks like there's a great inspiration here from the Group of Seven. Obviously, you have, in some of your paintings, tipped your hat heavily to some of the people in the Group of Seven but, more importantly, the serenity that is there. You know, they're not simple paintings, but they are serene, because it's just the subject in a place that you know is quiet.

Kurt Swinghammer:  Right. Yeah, it's interesting, I've never thought of that, but there is a stillness to them, and the brushwork is very mannered and very controlled. Whereas you think of the Group of Seven stuff trying to be very kind of macho testosterone. You know they're out there in the woods and they're putting antifreeze in their water color and stuff and deal with the elements. But Casson was the one of that group and the end Harris, that I just connected with more than some of the other guys and they had more of a graphic cleaner thing. I mean if everybody was painting really super clean and meticulous like this, I wouldn't be. It's like I just see so much sloppy painting out there that I think I don't want to contribute to the mass of very gestural, and that artwork can be very exciting and everything but I'm kind of astonished at how many trends are happening now that there's a whole pile of things that look the same right now. I guess there always is and there's always trends but this stuff, I feel, doesn't look like other people's work so that makes me feel like I'm doing the right thing.

Steve Waxman:  Oh no, absolutely, absolutely. You know, I spent, I spent a few summers, renting cottages in Muskoka and there's no greater time when you're up at the cottage than 6:30 In the morning, when nobody is there and when I first saw The Red Canoe, which was the first of the paintings that I ever saw, I was like, this is what this feels like. And then every other painting that you have is that same feeling. And then, I guess, a couple weeks ago or a month or two ago, I don't know if it was at the Hatch Gallery but I saw the painting with the loon floating through the water. So you saw the wake and that is exactly what it looks like at 6:30 in the morning when the ducks and the loons just go floating by. They don't even make a sound. And I believe the wake is even white, which is it's lack of sound, lack of color.

Kurt Swinghammer:  Well, they're remarkable birds and we don't have a cottage but we always tap friends that do and every summer make a point of getting up there and as time goes on I find that I connect with it more and more. It becomes a really very meaningful experience for you. The sound of the loon, is just like the coolest modular synthesizer on the planet right. It's so great.

Steve Waxman:  So do you remember when you started to create art?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Well, it's been all my life. When I was very very little, the first thing I remember doing was making this little sculpture out of cardboard of a telephone and my sister was so impressed she took it to show and tell and I was maybe four. I wasn't going to school yet. And I just had a natural inclination and my dad always stole paper from the police station and brought it home and so I had an infinite supply of paper. And I was very shy and introverted as well so that doing those types of personal things was a good solution. And the same with playing guitar. I mean, you know, I just wasn't the type of kid to go out and meet a bunch of friends and do that. I was very withdrawn and so I found these outlets that way. But in public school teachers went "Oh, you're going to go to OCA," and from when I was very little I always had people sort of recognizing something in my work that just showed kind of natural ability or whatever.

Steve Waxman:  Do you remember when you started getting serious about pursuing visual art as a career?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Well, I was selling work in galleries when I was 15 and I got the art award at high school in grade 12. I did very commercial kinds of decorative work of florals. And some of it was quirkier and as time went on and got more away from that but I was doing work to pay my way to go to OCA (Ontario College of Art) and stuff. I wasn't interested in getting a job job. And yeah, so I could make a couple thousand bucks a year when I was a teenager selling little watercolors and things. And that was enough to go to OCA at the time.

Steve Waxman:  I'm just curious, when you sold your first works at 15, what were they of?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Very simple watercolors and inks. Ink drawings with watercolor on watercolor paper. And they're just like flowers and barns are kind of a big deal because I grew up with paintings in our house by an artist that my mother collected. It was very unusual in the 60s that people, lower middle class people, would have paintings. You might have the Bob Ross type of factory type paintings that you could buy at the mall or whatever. But no other people that I knew had actual art and my mother just was keen and she really liked this one artist, in particular, and she bought a bunch of his paintings which is, again, actually really unusual to have genuine things and this guy was like a drinking buddy of some of the Group of Seven guys. And he would go on up and paint, and I don't know if it was A.Y. Jackson who was, I was too young to know what his story was, but when my parents died I got a few of these paintings that I grew up with. But looking back I think it gave me the idea that having art is amazing to live with real art, you know, it's a wonderful thing and also the idea that being an artist is a reality. It's a practical choice you can do. So this guy, I don't know how he survived but he sold paintings to his neighbors and stuff and they were good. They're really well executed oil paintings, and there were these barns and things like that. So the barn became the subject matter that I thought well I'm going to paint barns because people like to have paintings of barns for some reason. It's a rural thing, I guess. So, when I was a kid, we took a trip up to the east coast and I saw these people on the street, artists selling watercolors, ink drawings with watercolor. And then I went to Montreal when I was 14-15, and the same thing you go to Old Montreal and all these artists, characters on the street, selling watercolors and I thought 'That's it, I'm going to do ink and watercolor.' I did that for quite a while and got that technique happening. That was my ticket for a while.

Steve Waxman:  I want to talk a little bit about your guitar playing, because in addition to being a unique painter you are a unique guitarist. Your guitar playing is sought after by people because it doesn't sound like other people. And you've already talked about how you were introverted and sitting there with your guitar. So how did you develop your guitar style? Who were you listening to to sort of come up with the sound that is particular?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Well, I feel like I'm fairly diverse, you know. I begged for guitar when I was seven. My parents didn't know anything about music and I ended up with a lap steel without any indication of like, oh, this can be used to do interesting things. I was just "What the?" There's no way you can play Beatles songs on a lap steel guitar. It's impossible. And then when you're seven I wasn't able to go. 'Oh, I just have to detune it to something else, but even then that's a complicated issue if you try to chord or something and I just didn't know how to work with it. But I got my rhythm, I think, together. And that, I feel, is one of my strengths as a rhythm player. But I didn't get a Spanish guitar until grade nine and at that point I was obsessed with Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and that  type of singer-songwriter thing with acoustic guitar. At that time that was really what I was trying to emulate. And Joni Mitchell's technique of having a backbeat, like, she'd smack it and I picked up on that. I never had any lessons with the Spanish guitar, I just taught myself and I'd buy the books to be albums, you know, For The Roses or whatever and Joni's chords are like that because she's always tuning, she's got 40 different tunings whatever, so that was complicated. But, Neil Young's are so easy and so simple as chords and the structure, they're very simple. And I also got really inspired by Burt Bacharach and that was also more complicated chord structures and stuff. And I think that Joni and Burt Bacharach probably really informed my sense of color for composing, especially Bacharach and his use of asymmetry like using broken time signatures and things and I use a lot of sevens and fives and nines, even elevens  in my writing. And then guitarists, you know, there's so many that I admire. But also, when Eno came up with Another Green World, that was, to me, the most exciting album on the planet and it just really opened up a world of new, exciting music to me. It's still one of my favorite albums of all time, Another Green World. And I think the sound that Eno was getting from his synths and other players and stuff, suggested a sonic approach of creativity that I, you know, I started looking at my guitar differently. And when I went to OCA, the most important thing I learned was about music there actually because The Music Gallery was kind of next door to the Ontario College of Art. And for a couple years I was only listening to people just like total mad improv and sawing at things and inside the piano and that, to me, seemed way more exciting than punk rock which just felt like, kind of like nursery rhymes played really loud and fast. It was the rock vocabulary that had been already long established and to me it wasn't interesting to play I-IV-V no matter how fast and how aggressively. But The Music Gallery, I mean, that was just music you've never heard before. So that was so exciting and that had a big impact on my playing too.

Steve Waxman:  I moved to New York in '79 to go to college, and in early, mid '80 maybe early '81 is when Keith Haring's Atomic Baby started to show up in the subways and on the street lampposts and on the sides of buildings and stuff. When I moved back to Toronto a few years later, mid '80s, late '80s I think is when I became aware of your art through the Shuffle Demons whether it was "Roach Get Out of My House" or "Spadina Bus," I don't know, whichever and it reminded me immediately of Keith Haring's work, and I didn't know who you were though I'd heard the name around and I had been working at Ready Records so your name was in the air and I knew that you were an artist and a guitar player. I was curious as to how that, okay, so people decided to call it neo primitive art, but what was the inspiration? How did that style, that became really a style that defined Toronto for a number of years, even before the Maestro Fresh West videos and then became the look of hip hop music for a while as well? How did that come about?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Well, for me, I always felt that Rocky and Bullwinkle and the Flintstones, those cartoons made as big an impression on me as any fine art. And I always just loved cartooning. That's what I did all throughout high school. When the teacher was talking about math problems on the blackboard, I was drawing cartoons. And in the 80s I guess there were just certain people like Haring who captured a lot of attention and a lot of influence. I didn't know his work until people started saying, "Oh hey, your work looks like this guy from New York who is blowing up." And I said "Really?" And then I remember looking at it and going 'Shit, he's beat me to the punch and he's, he's done it.' I remember actually doing a stick figure once on this kind of mural thing that everybody's throwing stuff up on and this one guy who is from New York said, "Oh, I like that." And I thought it was cool, like, you know, I can just do stick figures. And that person was familiar with Haring's thing. Yeah, and for me it just felt very anti-establishment, anti-corporate to do something just kind of rough and cartoony and not slick and stylized but just kind of raw. And I felt that was in resistance to what I felt was very corporate, you know. So,  the bands that I got to work with, they weren't signed to major labels and there wasn't money involved, it was just very independent. And so that look lent itself to that and then, you know, at that time was just people were asking me like CKLN, the independent community radio station, asked me to do their stuff and it just felt like oh yeah this kind of visual vocabulary is just kind of rejecting the clean, precise, corporate graphic look that's up there. And I thought it had some kind of vitality, you know.

Steve Waxman:  Were you aware at the time of Australian Aboriginal art?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Well, all Folk Art, from all over the world that I've seen I felt now that's the shit. Like, that is not going through filters of money and it's done from the heart. But growing up in Southern Ontario I never felt I had any heritage that I could go to. My parents didn't have any. They're just trying to blend into Southern Ontario. But every Folk Art that I saw, including the Australian stuff, I was like 'It looks amazing.' And so I was conscious of trying to embrace that aesthetic. That it's a folky tradition, as opposed to a corporate type of thing, you know,

Steve Waxman:  It's interesting, that it sounds, in this conversation, that you have very consciously tried to establish a style that is recognizable and that it then becomes attached to Kurt Swinghammer, whether it's your guitar planning or your art. I mean you've had, I haven't obviously seen all of the art that you've created in your life, but you have two significant periods in your artwork that from what we're talking about right now, primitive-ish artwork from the mid to late 80s and early 90s and this new style, which, how long have you been doing this now?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Well, it's evolved but the roots of it do go back. 15 years for sure. Again, I went through a period of 15 or 20 years of really being dominated by being in front of a computer doing film music, you know, TV music, and that can be relentless. People that know that world you know you pull in the long hours for a month solid and maybe you might have a couple days off in between. I wasn't generating much visual work then. And again one of the solutions was well let's find something to paint that I don't have to think about. Because I do find it, going back and forth between music and visual work, it will refresh one another and keep me enthusiastic. It doesn't feel like I'm repeating myself all the time. But yeah, I would think that for some people, it looks like I've abandoned what I was doing, and doing something completely different, but I've always had a sort of different styles and never felt uncomfortable but having them happen at the same time. And the second art show I ever saw in my life, the second time I ever went to an art gallery was Harold Town. He was in the painters 11, and probably in the 50s and 60s he was probably the most celebrated Toronto artist who was kind of a larger than life character, a fantastic painter, and he had dozens of different styles. And the show I went to see was in Oshawa, at the McLaughlin gallery there, and he had two or three rooms and each room had just incredibly distinct bodies that looked like three different artists. And so that was the second show I ever saw and I was like, 'Oh, you can do that.' It wasn't very normal for people to show work like that, but it gave me inspiration that 'Oh, I don't have to follow this path and try to have a look, you know, so that was actually my inspiration to not be hung up on that. But, with this body of work I'm keeping the vocabulary tight because it can be confusing for the public to see. They assume that an artist has a style, right? So I'm very, very mindful of keeping within that while trying to evolve it and push forward, not to abandon, you know, where the body of work came from but still, at the same time, I'm doing another pile of stuff right now that doesn't look anything like this.

Steve Waxman:  That was actually exactly the next question. I presume that there's stuff that you're doing right now, that either was just for you or is a part of your evolution.

Kurt Swinghammer:  Yeah, there's a different part of those things. So, these wooden pieces (pointing at three word carving on the wall), they don't look like these paintings, you know different material and everything but when you do put them side by side, oh this sensibility with a line and stuff I suppose but yeah I mean I, I do feel that...Yeah, that's the Canadian Tire guy. 

Steve Waxman:  (distracted by another painting on the wall os a stylized portrait of Scotty, the Canadian Tire mascot) Yeah, no, I did think it was the Canadian Tire guy. Yeah. But even that has a large touch to the primitive stuff.

Kurt Swinghammer:  Yeah, yeah, yeah, that was, I mean, that work...

Steve Waxman:  I'm sorry to call it primitive. 

Kurt Swinghammer:  Neo primitive was thrown around a lot, and I don't know, maybe it's not politically correct or something anymore, but it ran its course and then I started seeing that look, applied to..I remember somebody said "I saw Taco Bell ad. It looks like you did it. Did you do it?" It's like "No" and then I remember seeing it and going 'Oh, jeez,  some commercial art studios have lifted that look, and applied it to these commercial clients.' So I thought I’ve got to kind of move on from that.

Steve Waxman:  I was curious though too but that period of time, I mean, it is such an abstract art and in many of our minds it's The Bamboo, it's CKLN and it's SaM The Record man's bag. It's the Maestro Fresh Wes videos and the Dream Warriors. Were you just doing canvases like that as well at the time?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Yeah, but not a ton but I was answering the phone a lot and getting gigs, and very, very happy to do that type of work, that commercial application for these new projects and then I ended up doing commercials for whatever cereal like Post Honeycombs and stuff. One cereal came out with MC Hammer refraction cards and the music was hip hop and they said 'Let's get that guy that from the Maestro Fresh Wes video.' But the joy was, you go into a cyc stage and it's 20 feet tall and it's 30 feet wide and that's a big canvas and I would get a 14 inch roller and not a paintbrush, and the opportunity to scale up to a 20 foot by 30 foot was so exciting, you know, and I got paid, which was novel.

Steve Waxman:  So how did you break into the Toronto market or the graphics market?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Well the Shuffle Demons, was the first thing, I'm pretty sure that was the first gig. And I lived in a shared residence with a bunch of other musicians, and everybody seemed to be playing in each other's bands and there's a heavy jazz scene at this place where I was. And so I got to know Rich (Underhill of The Shuffle Demons), and he saw what I was doing and just said, "Hey, you know, do you want to do this?" And I was in Vital Signs. Glenn Milchem was in that band at the time, and I did their cover and that got nominated for a U-Know award or something at the time and so it just sort of expanded from there. And the CKLN stuff had a lot of presence actually in Toronto. And then CBC called me, 'Oh, can you do this, The Entertainers radio show?' So it trickled out.

Steve Waxman:  So, in closing, if you had to give one up music or painting, what would you give up?

Kurt Swinghammer:  Jeepers. Well I don't know. I've never really thought of that or considered it. I think they're very complementary for me. And, I mean, you know the music has the live component which painting doesn't and often involves collaborating, which, painting, generally doesn't. So, to counterbalance, you know, my inclination would be solitary. Music is good for me too, because to collaborate with other musicians, to go perform live I think that has more resonance plus it's invisible and I think music is maybe more powerful, and I play music when I paint, You know, so I'm always absorbing music.

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My question about whether he’d give up, art or guitar is, of course, theoretical. Kurt’s not likely to ever give up either. As a matter of fact, he was pretty proud that he had his art supplies on wheels that could easily be moved out of the way to convert his studio into a performance space. If you would like to check out Kurt Swinghammer’s art, I’ve posted photos of a number of pieces discussed in this episode on The Creationists Podcast page on Facebook and Instagram. You can purchase his work through or you can visit his website Also, Kurt’s music can be heard on all streaming platforms.