Monday, June 13, 2011

Ricky Swallow: Field Recordings, by Justin Paton.

Ricky Swallow: Field Recordings
By Justin Paton
Published by Craftsman House

One of the reasons I haven't read many art books is because I feel that art is for looking at not writing about. As an artist I am loath to write too much about my own artwork because I’d like the artwork to speak for itself regardless of the inspiration and backstory of it. The other reason I have an aversion to reading and writing such statements - and some art criticism - is that it’s often gibberish infused wankery and I want no part of that. Galleries, critics and educational institutions seem to insist that words about art must contain a higher than average percentage of polysyllabic words within a set artistic vernacular. Artists are encouraged to talk up works without it being evident of having put quite as much thought into their execution, perhaps to make up for lack of technique or complexity in the final work.

The reality is that artists do need words to convey the depth of their ideas and allow their audience to get the most out of their art appreciation. Perhaps if artists were allowed to say exactly what they believe their artwork is about or what they were inspired by, instead of what is expected of them the whole process would be simplified. For an artist a skull is a really interesting shape ... which happens to be a universal symbol of our mortality and commonality as humans. By saying little about his work, and leaving it up to the viewer to interpret, Ricky Swallow allows his work to be appreciated in its own right.

I purchased this publication at the most recent, major retrospective of Swallow’s art , 'The Bricoleur' at the National Gallery of Victoria, at Federation Square aka NGV Fed Square. There were a number of tethered books in a little reading room that viewers could peruse at their leisure. I spent a few minutes with this one before deciding I’d like to own and read it in full.

I’ve been an admirer of Swallow’s sculptures since seeing a series of his turntables on a window sill back in 1999, following his career ever since. As an artist his skill, use of small scale, craftsmanship and discipline has been an inspiration to me. It was good to hear some of his artistic philosophy, which I strongly identify with. Swallow believes that if you want your audience to spend time looking at your art, then you need to spend a certain amount of time creating it.

The focus of this book is Swallow’s technically refined, unforgettable, world class sculptures, while skimming over his watercolours which are unremarkable by comparison. For some works I can’t help but feel that Swallow savoured the artistic challenge and time needed to carve in wood - particularly something complex in form - or the paradox of recreating something soft in a hard material. There has been a consistent, underlying irony, in his choice of materials.

Without quotes from the artist to confirm, I am unconvinced the bulk of meaningful descriptions of the artworks featured are what the artist intended - rather than a writer’s interpretation of what they could mean. Some of this is the expected dietary art wank fibre but nonetheless, fairly digestible from beginning to end offering further insight into Swallow’s art than may be gleaned by simply viewing it. The writer's interpretations provide food for thought, and that is where the value of reading about art comes into play, and why this is a worthy book.

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