Nick Evans and Tony Swain

Nick Evans and Tony Swain

Little and large

Alexander Kennedy looks at the seductive surfaces and weighty theories underlying the work of Nick Evans and Tony Swain

It seems Paul Nesbit can do no wrong at Inverleith House in the Botanic Gardens. The curator has a back catalogue of excellent exhibitions under his belt, having shown work by some of the most respected national and international artists. Following a critically-acclaimed installation by Glasgow-based team Smith and Stewart, the galleries will be home to another pair of Glasgow-based artists (although this time not a double act): Nick Evans and Tony Swain.

Evans has continued to refine his approach over the last decade, with work that uses some of the tersest aesthetic theories and philosophies as subject matter, to create impressive sculptures that demonstrate both his mastery over his subject and the ways in which a faith in one’s approach can escape the tether of explication by simply being ‘good’. The artist brings questions of taste and aesthetic appreciation back to the table (it was only temporarily hiding beneath it), with work that relentlessly forces its presence onto the viewer.

These are not small, installed, site specific, apologetic artworks, but sprawling yet contained pieces that coil across the floor or reach right up to the ceiling. Evans’ most recent work has grown in scale (this could be down to the amount of space he is now granted in larger galleries), allowing him to introduce a stronger physical relationship between the work and the gallery goer. This aspect is central to the most recent work – the vertical stance of the viewer – although the pieces would still have a certain impact if you felt the urge to lie down beside one.

As Evans’ work grows in stature, Tony Swain’s painted collages have grown in confidence. Swain recently represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale with a hotchpotch of other local talent, and managed to transcend the lack of curatorial vision and organisation with works that built on a series of excellent exhibitions, the highlight being his 2006 show at The Modern Institute. Swain investigates the potential for pattern making and accidental narrative by collaging and painting over areas of colour from newspapers.

Although it is tempting to use words such as ‘random’ in relation to this approach, there is, of course, a guiding hand and eye manipulating that apparent randomness. There’s no shame in consciously pulling any old oddments of material together, whether newspaper or gold leaf, as long as the end product manages to convince, and Swain’s work does. His work is at its best when it veers towards total abstraction, but the occasional representational element freed from its original context demonstrates that even our familiar, everyday reality is a collage of repeating patterns that only gives the illusion of stability.

The formalist issues that Evans’ and Swain’s works invoke when placed in such close proximity are worth unpacking slowly, even though the ice-cream and pastel colours of Swain’s chalky pages and the muliticoloured mania of Evans’ sculptures have an instantaneous impact.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Inverleith House, Edinburgh, Sat 16 Feb–Sun 20 Apr.

Tony Swain: Impure Passports

  • 5 stars

New painted works on newspaper cuttings from the Glasgow-based Irish artist.

Nick Evans: Primary School

  • 5 stars

New sculptural works by the Glasgow artist, here using a diverse range of media from cast and assembled resin to poured aluminium and hand-built ceramics to subvert sculptural traditions.

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