A Gyno by day and an Artist by night.
Only in New York.
I recently had the opportunity to attend Steven Swancoat’s 1-night exhibition for the “Putin Paintings." The exhibition was held in The Crown Building off Central Park south in a private gallery with a lofted glass roof and walls lined with the likes of Lichtenstein and Botero. The Putin Paintings? They were, as you may have guessed, for Vladmir Putin. While there are many artists and many controversies in New York, I find Steven Swancoat to be of particular interest. He is unique and new and inherently philanthropic. And, of course, there’s the whole thing about him being an OB/GYN, too.
While I personally prefer his more modern and whimsical pieces over the Putin Paintings, I still couldn’t help but be intrigued as to the story behind the work. And, ever voyeuristic, I also had to sneak in a few personal questions about his take and preferences in the big apple.
Read on for the Q&A on the Putin Paintings and Swancoat’s NYC favorites!
Q&A on Art
Can you share the story behind the Putin Paintings?
The story began in early February 2014, right after the Russians won the Winter Olympics. I was managing Labor and Delivery as a 2nd year Ob/Gyn resident when one of my OB attending, Dr. Petrikovsky, was on the same floor.
While we were discussing a patient, I invited him to an art show that I had coming up. It was my New SPiN, New Pop art show at Susan Sarandon’s SPiN. Eventually, I would go on to learn that he was on the Russian Winter Olympic team as a team physician (he has offices in both NYC and Moscow.) Additionally, he was actually colleagues with Vladimir Putin, after having been on the same Olympic health board.
Petrikovsky said that he wanted to gift Putin with a painting, one that that would be both a gesture and thank you present for choosing him to participate on the Olympic team. Also, he disclosed that the painting would be hand delivered to Putin in Russia, He told me, “I can exactly pick up the phone and call him, but when I am in Russia we will meet for tea or lunch.”
What about the message behind each one?
Putin & The American Flag: Initially thought of as a single painting, the Putin paintings were quickly divided into three unique messages. The message behind the Putin one over the American flag was to demonstrate his equal significance to both nations.
Pregnant Minnie: The idea to include a “Pregnant Minnie” was originally suggested by Dr. Petrikovsky. First off, he is a large Disney fan. Secondly, it was a reflection of his involvement on the Russian government population planning board where he originally met Putin. Minnie’s pregnant belly and the “Victoria’s Secret” stripes are a reference to fertility, but also to the American Flag. Painted only in black and white, I wanted to illustrate her lack of uniqueness.
Ob/Gyn Mickey: Mickey was the last character to evolve and is essential to the series. Dressing Mickey as a Doctor, the painting (also made from a hand cut stencil) is meant to pay homage to Dr. Petrikovsky. To compliment the stripes of “Pregnant Minnie,” we needed “stars.” So, staggered in the background to represent the stars on our flag, I used the medical symbol, also known as a Caduceus. Mickey was painted in vibrant heavy body acrylics, thus symbolizing the “colorful character and physician” of which Dr. Petrikovsky truly is.
Your own website describes you as a doctor by day and artist by night. Does it ever feel conflicting to stand in two separate worlds?
The only conflicting part would just be the time demand of being an Ob/Gyn. As I am working 80 hours on average a week, I have to make time to paint on the few free hours I have a day. However, being a part of the medicine and art world only complement one another. I have found that since taking up art, my medicine has improved. My surgical skills and attention to detail have vastly improved since majority of my art is hand cut stencils.
“Many times, I use very similar instruments in my art as I do in the operating room, such as blades, hemostats and pickups.”
As for the creativity, my true blessing I feel in art is not my skill or talent as there are plenty of artists that have far more talent or skill in painting or drawing. My skill comes in my creativity and ability to visualize things in my mind before they ever appear on the canvas. I get new ideas every single day, not only on new paintings or techniques, new ideas on medical research projects, new procedures and surgical instruments. In the operating room, art has helped increase my ability to visualize in my mind putting together tissue anatomically correct before physically touching it or putting any sutures in.
You were a late bloomer in terms of your artistic talent, with no prior experience, but your work is very impressive and gaining a significant amount of attention. What was your artistic trigger?
My trigger occurred in early November 2010, as a third year medical student who had just moved to New York city a few months prior. My dad who came to visit me encouraged me, now living in NYC, to give art a try. I replied “I can’t draw and definitely can’t paint but I have a little point and shoot camera and can trying snapping some photos.” So, that fall I started taking photos of New York cityscapes and actually impressed myself a bit.
Shortly after the new year in February 2011, my dad again encouraged me to grow my art – this time seeing a new art documentary called Exit through the Gift shop. That next day I went to the MoMa to see it and was inspired. Not by Banksy or Shephard fairy but by Mr. Brainwash, who never before had attempted art and was now a full time artist. I told myself if he can do it, so can I. That next day I put the camera down, went out and bought some paintings supplies and painted my first canvas.
About a year to the day later, I had my first solo exhibition here in the Upper West Side. At that time, I told myself if I was lucky enough to be living in NYC and having a solo art exhibition that I want my art to help raise money for charity, since then every show I have done where I have sold work I have donated a percentage to a charity; majority going towards ovarian cancer thus far.
Do you have any projects in the pipeline?
I do. I am working on two new series of paintings that are very new to me. One is my conceptual series in which I make paintings that have conceptual based texts on them, thus the art is in the letters and words. The second is my Pop-surrealism series, in which I attempt to make surrealist and minimalistic type paintings by using my stencil based pop style.
Also, I am secretly working on a whole new collection of paintings for a future solo exhibition. I want to the paintings to be in the same style and quality as the Putin paintings. I do not have a date or anything set yet, but want to make a quality body of work that I won’t show or display until the time is perfect.
I do take on commissions, but have become very selective on the ones I take on. I like to keep my artist freedom and not be tied down with a pipeline of commissions, however if the pieces sounds interesting or they give me a lot of artistic freedom in how I can make it, I will strongly consider it.
Q&A on NYC
Favorite thing about New York City?
My favorite part of New York City, other than the dense buildings and amazing architecture, is the opportunity it offers. Most people say it’s very difficult to make it in New York City or “if you can make it here you can make it anywhere.” In fact, I think it easier to make it here in NYC that any anywhere else. It would be very hard to be an artist in Michigan or launch a clothing line in Nebraska, but here everything is possible. Everywhere you look there is opportunity. NYC has everything from finance, art, show business, philanthropy, fashion, the list is endless. And there are so many people here, that you never know who you can meet and where a relationship may go. It’s because of this that I will never leave New York City.
Favorite place to unwind?
Hands down Central Park. It’s so beautiful and relaxing. Whether I am just venturing through the park, getting lost, going on a photo shoot or jogging around the loop, I can completely unwind and refresh my mind. Majority of my break through ideas in art have come to me while running in the park.
Best place to grab a drink on Saturday night?
Though its only open in the summer time, the best Saturday night drink to start off the evening would be the rooftop at the Metropolitan Art Museum. Most don’t even know you there is a roof top, but it’s open through summer, and has the most amazing view towering over central park. You can see all of 5th Ave., central park west and central park south. It’s truly one of the most amazing views in the entire city.
The one thing people should do/see if they’re in NYC for only a day?
Again, I cannot help but suggest Central Park. So many amazing ponds, lakes, famous scenes from movies and it’s like heaven amongst the concrete jungle. Also one of my favorite areas is midtown, right around Rockefeller center and leading into Times Square. The big buildings and vibrant lights are what makes this city alive and amazing.