There’s something curious about decorated newspaper hung in an art gallery. It creates an instant collision of associations. Collaged images and painted newsprint are more at home in messy and chaotic childhood art classes than international art galleries such as BALTIC. Yet chaos is entirely absent from Tony Swain’s exhibition Undetailed Progress.
The negative space surrounding paintings allows the viewer to absorb each artwork individually. From a distance Swain’s works look like haphazard scrawls of paint splashed across the newspaper; yet upon closer inspection the layering of the paint is delicate to the point of intensity. Brush strokes are clearly visible, and one may note the precision in which Swain has applied his medium. His application varies from light washes to heavy handed dashes of dry brushing creating a dynamic pictorial plane.
There is an undeniable sense of exploration apparent in his work. Swain’s depictions vary from relatively tranquil landscapes to distorted abstract forms. As if in search of something; his neglect of realism and his fixation on fragmentation result in his work displaying elements of the fantastic.
Balance is a vital, as Swain works with bold hues layered against softer tones. The images and texts of the newsprint are also carefully considered, as Swain chooses what to reveal. The fragile canvases of newspaper are not sourced from entire pages, but instead several fragments are collected and pieced together. Through the use of collage, Swain creates thought-provoking colour schemes and incredibly intricate works.
This fragility is further maintained in the hang. Swain defies most gallery conventions by eliminating the use of frames in all but one piece. Instead, the works are attached to the wall with blu-tack. The presence of the singular framed work consequently look out of place yet allows the viewer to comprehend the organic quality Swain conveys.
The tactility of the materials and hark to the crumpling sound expected when encountering newspaper; the urge to reach out and touch Swain’s delicate pieces is difficult to resist. It is this delicacy and use of material that makes Swain’s work so effective. The newspaper works seem so out of place in this gallery setting, yet at the same time they look so beautifully at home.
Tony Swain Undetailed Progress is on display 7 March – 31 August 2015 at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead.
Image: Tony Swain, Hotels for rivals (detail), 2014.Courtesy the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow. Photo: Ruth Clark.