By Destiny Brown
When it meets the eye, the Coastal shores are made up of miles and miles of sugar white sand, diverse native sea life and breathtaking waters.
However, if you look a little closer, you’ll see that scattered throughout the white sand, harming the wildlife and polluting the waters is one aspect to our Shores that isn’t as publicized as the rest, the trash. That aspect doesn’t look as good for the picturesque scene we paint of life here on the Coast.
One local artist, John-David Swiger noticed an opportunity to do something more than simply ignore the trash he found on daily beach walks, by highlighting it.
On most days, you’ll find Swiger skateboarding the two miles of shoreline he resides on, collecting bag in hand, doing his part in helping this wide-spread problem, by picking up the trash.
He gets many interested looks as spectators ask what “treasure” he’s gathered from the beach to fill up that large bag. But if you look inside, you’ll find the furthest thing from treasure.
The Swiger name is no stranger to the local art scene. With the launch of Swiger Studio with his brother Michael in 2017, the duo caters to a variety of artistic outlets from videography to design to mixed media and more. The brothers remain strong supporters of local businesses and have completed projects for The Factory and Big Beach Brewery among others.
As an effort to expand the studios creations and his own abilities, John-David set out with a goal to make his art more meaningful or to ‘tug at your heartstrings.’ Through trial and error, he searched for his nitch in art and found it in another of his passions, keeping his coastal community clean. He soon began to understand how one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure.
“It’s an easy subject to throw in people’s faces,” Swiger said. “Being a local, it was never uncommon to see all walks of life throw trash on the beach. I’m lucky enough to call this place my home and this community has done a lot for me.”
With his new plastic pollution series, Washed Ashore, Swiger is proud to begin his first solo project that his hometown community of Gulf Shores has been 100 percent rallying behind. Through social media outlets and word of mouth, the series has taken off with abundant local attention and followers are on the edge of their seats to see what’s next from Swiger.
Swiger’s hope is to relay his core beliefs on pollution by exposing them through his art.
“I have this artistic platform and I want to expose this problem” Swiger said.”
The problem, or plastic invasion, isn’t intended to be the beautiful masterpieces that meet the eye. Swiger hopes onlookers take in his work with a different message.
“People will say it looks ‘beautiful’ or ‘pretty,’ but really the message behind it is ugly and disgusting and putrid,” Swiger said. “It’s a terrible thing that’s going on. I wish someone would comment once in awhile on the work and say what the true facts of it are. It’s a horrid thing.”
Swiger admits that some days it’s hard to find much trash on our beaches. With programs like Leave Only Footprints, Share the Beach and daily beach sweeping, the City takes an effort in keeping our sands pristine.
“My inspiration is that we can do more as a community,” Swiger said. “Though we have these programs that are trying their damndest, if I can come behind them and pick up where they left out or see what they didn’t, that’s just better for the community itself.”
Grabbing coffee, a skateboard and a fabric bag, Swiger heads out each morning to troll the shoreline for the pieces he needs. Most of the time, he doesn’t even know what he’s searching for. Sometimes, he is just waiting for something to set a spark.
“I never know if a piece is going to work,” Swiger said, “I’m still learning every day.”
For example, his work 2,000 Cigarettes is a piece that literally consists of 2,000 cigarette butts. Plenty of butts were neglected because they weren’t the correct size or color. For his work Trash Fish he went out looking or a warm color palette, which is another method he occasionally uses.
When Swiger returns to the studio, he organizes his findings by mediums, colors or whatever a certain piece is calling for. From diapers to lures and everything in between, there’s no telling the bounty he will gather for the day.
Swiger says this is the first time he’s ever made this type or quality of art. He says after hours and hours of searching for pieces, laying out the perfect pattern, mounting it to wood while getting covered in resin and ; it’s difficult not to develop sentimental feelings to his work.
“Ultimately, I feel like my style is about the life on the Gulf Coast,” Swiger said. “Sea life is a huge part of it because I feel like it’s directly affected by plastic.”
Currently, Swiger Studio is an in-house studio on East Beach where clients are invited to come view art, watch a creation in the works or just hang out.
However, Swiger says his end goal is to have a gallery of his own.
“I’d like Swiger Studios to become a local gallery that’s respected and valued,” Swiger said. “I want you to be able to walk into a place where you can come and relax with no pressure to buy anything. I want you to be taken back or entertained while you’re there.”
This year, Swiger has been displayed at both Zydeco Festival and Ballyhoo Festival in Gulf Shores. You can find his art on Facebook at Swiger Studio. Recently, Playa at Sportsman’s Marina acquired one of Swiger’s most popular pieces, Trash Fish, to add to it’s dining area.
“Being tired sums up to giving back and raising awareness that’s bigger than plastic invasion. That the invasion is not just here, but everywhere in the world,” Swiger said. “I’m doing a small part by showing the problem here and hopefully that will branch to the next city over.”