How and why a song and story continue to inspire my art.

The Artist Statement. In the spring of 1988, I painted my first watercolour iteration of The Swimmer – depicting a male swimmer with his back to the viewer in what may be contemplative thought. He looks toward another male swimmer, who stands with his arms akimbo.

Riptide* of water – inspired by the inner sleeve artwork of an album recorded in the Bahamas during three months in the summer of 1985 – both connects and distances the two men. 

Around this same time, I was introduced to The Swimmer by John Cheever.

On July 18, 1964, a story appeared in The New Yorker. Less than two years later, cameras were rolling poolside in Westport, Connecticut, on a fit and tanned Burt Lancaster as he portrayed Ned Merrill, The Swimmer, in a role that critic Robert Ebert called “his finest performance.”

What began as 150 pages of notes was streamlined into eight pages of prose by Cheever. Fourteen years later, The Swimmer was included in The Stories of John Cheever which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1978. 

The story of The Swimmer begins and ends poolside.

“The day was beautiful, and it seemed to him that a long swim might enlarge and celebrate its beauty.” 

As Ned Merrill lounges and drinks at the Westerhazys’ pool on a fine midsummer Sunday,

“In his mind he saw, with a cartographer’s eye, a string of swimming pools, a quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the county.” Keen to swim all of these pools in a day, Ned “took off a sweater that was hung over his shoulders and dove in…”

Consciously and unconsciously, The Swimmer has influenced my work
ever since.

In the summer of 2018, the view from my drafting table was that of a long and narrow lap pool where I swam lengths three times each week. Inspired by what I instinctually recognized would be a fleeting yet timeless view, I documented three moments in time of changing** water overlooking the edge of a very private yet very public pool. 

Cheever’s protagonist Ned Merrill anticipates and swims through a string of swimming pools, a…stream that curved across the county”. 

In The Swimmer 2018 – a triptych of 8”x10” watercolours – a swimmer’s anticipation and perspective of simple, subtle and substantive changes in pool water are captured. This watercolour was first exhibited at the historic Macauley museum complex that’s located steps away from downtown Picton, Ontario.

With The Swimmer 2018, I’m documenting my past and present while contemplating my future here in Prince Edward County. You can visit @dawnayer to see photos and images that are inspiring my art.

Thank you for taking time to read this.
Dawn Ayer

~~~a few liner notes~~~

*Riptide is Robert Palmer’s 1985 cover of a song originally written by Gus Kahn in 1935.

Riptide was also released by singer-songwriter Vance Joy in 2013. 

**“I watch the ripples change their size / But never leave the stream / Time may change me. But I can’t trace time.” David Bowie wrote and recorded Changes in the summer of 1971. 


Water and trees inspire me. With each painting, print, photo and collage, I capture distinctly personal moments in time. Every day, I use paint, ink, images and words to archive just some of the things that catch my attention.

Interested in my art? Select paintings and prints are available ~ contact me to learn more.