Candy apples and firecrackers

Local artist’s paintings grab some by the throat

WHERE’S CAITLIN? <br>Chico artist Caitlin Schwerin sits among her work at her studio in her east Chico home.

Chico artist Caitlin Schwerin sits among her work at her studio in her east Chico home.

Photo By Christine LaPado

“Hello. I’m Caitlin. I like to paint.”
—Caitlin Schwerin

Local painter Caitlin Schwerin (pronounced “Shereen") described the collection of small, red-hued, abstract paintings hanging on one wall of the studio in her east Chico home as part of “about 20 pieces that were all done intensely in one sitting. It’s a body of work still in progress … based on a romance. The romance ended. Now the single pieces are going in a bit slower because I don’t really have that same muse any more.”

The title of the very shiny group of paintings?

“The Candy Apple Series,” said the 34-year-old Schwerin, whose trademarks include her use of an oil-based ageing varnish over the top of her acrylic paintings. “To me, they just looked lickable. They had that lickable quality. This red one here—if you were to bend it, it would look like you could put it on a stick.”

There are two large canvases propped against the studio’s wall—each half blue and half brown of varying shades with a horizon line running across the middle. “These are weather,” Schwerin explained, “and I like these particular colors.”

Schwerin said she sits in her studio looking out the window sometimes and just paints weather.

“It calms me down, painting colors instead of barns, trees, birds, stories, subjects” explained the passionate Schwerin, who paints 16 hours a day. “These are the kind of calm-me-down pieces.”

Schwerin’s trademark minimalist, surreal, emotion-stirring pieces—many of squat barns on distant, lonely horizons; faceless, elongated human figures and cartoonish trees that appear to have distinct personalities—have shown in a number of places in Chico, including The Black Crow and Chico Paper Co. They are also featured in an ongoing display at Salon Chico. Schwerin’s paintings hang throughout her house, including on the walls of her living room, which is doubly track-lit to resemble the conditions of a gallery.

“Firecrackers” is a depiction of seven funny-looking, coiffed trees in a row on a far horizon. Next to it, as if we really are in a gallery (though the smears of paint on a nearby table also show that Schwerin likes to paint in this room as well), hangs the piece’s typed description card: “The new look these days is an explosion of hair. Choose any color you want, or stay natural, but make your hair as messy as possible.”

Schwerin, who originally wanted to be a writer, but fell in love with creating visual art back in 1989 while watching her artist boyfriend-at-the-time make colored pencil figure drawings, still expresses her writerly imagination by making up these little cards.

Next to “Firecrackers,” is “Drei Freunde,” another whimsical tree painting.

“This is a three-tree image I intend to do again, and again, and again, until I run out of steam, or language with which to name it,” reads the card.

Schwerin makes no secret about her proclivity for painting trees.

“I love them,” she explained. “They’re like people, only they’re more quiet.”

At one point, Schwerin pulled out a tree painting from a stack in her studio.

“I think her name’s Diane,” she said, pointing to the “portrait” of a spindly, fluffy-topped tree, “head” bent down in a slightly demure pose. “She just looks like a character in a Cary Grant movie, and he’s talking to her and she’s responding.”

“Late Night,” Schwerin’s self-portrait of sorts—looking like a cross between Andy Warhol and comic strip character Bill the Cat, with one pupil-less eye much larger than the other—was painted, well, after a late night.

“I painted how I felt,” she said. “I’m very excited about being an artist, but you’re always dealing with your emotions—raw.”

During my late-morning interview with Schwerin, her roommate, local actor Tony Varicelli, tumbled out of his room after a late night working and offered this take on Schwerin’s work: “The first time I saw a painting of Caitlin’s at A Taste of Chico it just reached out and grabbed me by the throat, and I stood there looking at it for 45 minutes.”