Tony Swain: Drowned Dust, Sudden Word
Using materials of newsprint as starting point for abstract painting canvasses
There’s a deliberately seductive art to the design of a newspaper page, but only within the uniform rigour of the reader’s expectations. Northern Irish artist Tony Swain subverts these norms by using the materials of newsprint as the starting point for abstract painting canvasses, their intentionally disposable nature reappropriated for permanent gallery display. Text is all but absent: ‘you are 3400km from your home and family and 550km from the nearest international airport’ informs one painted-over block on ‘Five Die Cutting Star’, its landscape of snow-capped peaks and palm-fringed lagoons a particularly British dream of escape to the perfect climate.
Instead, a mixture of collage assembly and paint builds a particular aesthetic based on imagery, far-removed from the visual grammar of a newspaper but often in tune with their themes.
The most successful works here, to this eye, aren’t the ones constructed around abstract, almost Dadaist visual associations or the concrete geometry of ‘First Time With a Lasso’, but rather those dystopian exaggerations of their source material: ‘The Flavours Disappear’s burning sky over a wrecked container field; the jackboot crunch of ‘One Dressed As Many’; the mesmerising large-scale study of a ruined ecology in the centrepiece ‘As Well’.
Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 8 Jul