Taped to the wall of Tom Swift’s studio are three postcards, so well handled and travelled they have softened at the edges. The postcards are of works by Jean Dubuffet, Walker Evans and Joel Sternfold. Vicissitudes, 1977, by Dubuffet is a fitting example of an artist having fun, cutting up and arranging paper works onto canvas to create a mass of colourful and chaotic images, lines and shapes. Walker Evans, in
, 1935, (Barbour Shop image) is a master of purity, irony and the everyday. Sternfold's image, After the Flood, 1979, is a powerful image of the great inhospitable American landscape and man’s futile attempt to transform it into paradise. Swift has clearly soaked up these works. New Orleans
Swift's paintings are fun and fast, he moves quickly and efficiently, first mapping out the image and then moving in with paintbrush and paint. They are all carefully considered, not over-laboured, nor or they under worked. If the composition or colour arrangement is not working, he will start again on a fresh sheet of paper. There is a formula at work and purity is central to it.
Swift paints from the photographs he takes on a pocket camera. Out walking or cycling, he will notice something and take a quick photo. Swift has an acute sensibility of his visual surroundings. He is constantly searching and editing the local topography, homing in on something, or the relationship between things. He doesn't need to stop and labour the scenery to find that something, if it’s there he will probably notice it straight away. A cafe built into a cliff with no customers, a paranoid looking house, parrots in a tree, a church selling motorbike bits.
Back in the studio, camera on playback, Swift pans in on the thing that caught his eye. Rather than isolate the subject from its immediate context, Swift retains the topographical elements that occupy the periphery. He has a tendency and ability to abstract these superfluous elements into the patterns and lines that sit around the edges of the paintings, whilst staying relatively true to the main subject. The ease and effortless nature of this process has come from refining the relationship between street, photograph and painting. Swifts formula counterbalances a degree of chance with a clearly defined intention and set of rules.
There is a curious interrelationship between image and colour in Swift's work. He is economic with both, to great effect. To Swift, the lines that map out the image take on the role of a "coat hanger"; they support, and are crucial to the colour. There is a subtle colour revolution in each and every one of Swift's paintings. There is also purity; different colours sit comfortably along side each other. Sometimes Swift will use blue in the sky, but most of the time he wont. The colours are fun and playful, pulled from fifties fabrics, furniture and design, fifties seaside posters, ultimately the colors of the British seaside summer in its heyday. You'll be surprised what effect his palette has on you. I started seeing it all along the coast, in a sun-faded windbreaker, ice cream parlor signage, and the faded postcards that have sat for decades in the sunshine.
In his Thanet Works series, Swift depicts a topography that has seen a heyday, a decline and resurgence. Swift has refined his formula to present contrasting parts of a whole; the natural landscape and man made battling it out with sunny colours and energetic lines. Very infrequently does a person make it into one of Swifts painting, they don't need to.
Beth Anderson 2013