The painter Tony Swain works with a restricted range of materials including acrylic paint and what he describes as ‘pieced’ newspaper: everyday broadsheet newspapers which have been taken apart and re-formed to provide the artist with a canvas. The existing words and images on the newsprint are incorporated, adapted or obliterated in the process of making a new painting.
Through this dual process of collage and painting, Swain teases out fantastical distorted landscapes and impossible structures that hover on the border between reality and fantasy. They seem unstable, as though they exist in some other dimension where the usual laws of geography and physics don’t apply. The paintings are shaped by the artist until a balance is achieved between abstraction and representation.
Swain’s titles emphasise the process of collage and layering of meaning. In their precise peculiarity, titles such as Tarrif of Fir, Commonwealth Parking and The Liar’s Several Attempts (all 2012) hint at an ambiguous narrative that we may or may not be able to discern among the many elements of a completed image. Rather than offering a definitive description of a work, as we might traditionally expect, they suggest a route into the myriad elements of a painting, which because its meaning cannot be easily resolved, sends us back to the way the picture itself is made.
The diversity of Swain’s work can also be seen in his involvement as a musician in the highly regarded band Hassle Hound and his curatorial role in Le Drapeau Noir (2010) at the Glasgow International festival. In collaboration with artists Raydale Dower and Rob Churm, Swain organised a temporary ‘artists' café’ and performance venue. Named after the anarchist symbol of the black flag, the project referred to early twentieth-century avant-garde venues, such as the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. It presented experimental performance, art and music in one space without favouring any one medium in particular, reflecting the fluid way in which art is created within the city and its artistic communities.