Yellow, But Not The Sun Michelle Swayne
Oct 6th-Nov 6th, 2007
A Solo Exhibition by Michelle Swayne
In her exhibition at Gaya Art Space, titled Yellow, But Not The Sun, Michelle Swayne uses poetic titles that themselves read like paintings, a solid grounding in both conceptual and academic art, and most of all the ineffable touch of the art itself -- uncannily ambiguous work filled with tonal angularities and tensions -- to reclaim enough space for the viewer to see her paintings and sculptures as visual objects married to visual ideas, resistant to easy textual parsing.
Educated at the San Francisco Art Institute, where all classes were about ideas in art, not about making art; at the New York Academy of Art, an academic school focused on the human figure, started by Andy Warhol and other pop artists; and most recently at the Ruskin School of Drawing at Oxford, Swayne once wrote that there are two kinds of artists: those who are filled up and pour out and those who gather and re-negotiate; those who blindly go to discover and those who specify what is found. Swayne, now living in Bali, works in a "pulling" mode rather than an analytic "poising" mode, and maintains the sense that she'd be cheating (herself) if she looked at too many art glossies.
But though Swayne's art is not altogether conceptual -- her objects and her ideas are too interwoven. "I need the object; not making the object is not really a possibility" -- she also forgoes the comforting ideals of classical beauty and truth. "The idea of completing a pattern is really satisfying, but that's the difference between art and design. If you paint something orange and call it grass, there's an added poetic element, an undetermined relation. I like using the expectation of pattern to structure something like possible impossibilities. Often the absurd reveals much more about life. It reveals a kind of nakedness."
In the painting I toad you I willy willy boat you, for example, Swayne uses common sentence and landscape structures to reveal a kind of giddy, supernatural intimacy, forcing the viewer to read two things at once the familiar doesn't work, the absurd doesn't work, but the two readings in conflict create the aporetic idea that Swayne aims for. Parallel, in a sense, to the gazes between the two people. It's not the one, not the other, it's what is happening in between, though what that is cannot be explained to a viewer who has never experienced something that otherworldly. Similarly, a painting like You remind me of the mushrooms in hell where one thing stands for two other things uses hints of Heironymous Bosch to create an open-ended semiotic map between abstraction, symbolism and the viewer to look at the idea of how people see. And in the installation The mother other, Swayne hangs a gigantic woman sculpted out of common bathroom silicone in a fisherman's net, with two lavish green paintings behind. The mother other looks like she's been dragged up from the bottom of the seabed, rescued, or perhaps the last of her species, caught as a novelty. Or, somehow, both.
From her first exhibition -- where her work was stolen -- Swayne's art has been a process of creating a personal mythology that, like every good mythology, makes contact with something universal: a sense of the personal in an epic human narrative. It maintains a dream sensibility, an imagined real narrative that's not exactly fictional. Like casting candles out of her own breasts, work about having breast cancer, though she didn't.
In Bali, her art is evolving out of and into abstraction while maintaining a strong link to her earlier New York work with monsters: inanimate white bodies with heads, hands, legs, butts and the possibility of a narrative in some ecstatic state. Not necessarily pleasure, but some on-the-edge experience. Beings who didn't yet have a sense of self but were becoming aware of their existence in scene happenings that looked like gang rapes, religious experiences, the moment of tenderness between something or potential beginning of a fight -- common human interactions. "Not that gang rape is common, but trying to take simple possibilities and expand them to critical emotional moments in human life. So their awfulness and wonderfulness is uncontrolled, in a kind of 'pre-society.' I think critical moments in human life are what propels us to new awareness. These things were standing in as potential beings. They weren't really beings yet."
Yellow, But Not The Sun expands on this idea of visually representing a process in which a person's vision of being in the world goes through shifts. "You can have these all-sensory experiences that mean something, a great deal to you, but are really impossible to communicate to another. It just comes out as nonsense. But if you can somehow grab onto the bumper of another form of communication, so to speak, if you can co-opt the pattern of something 'accepted' then you may be able to transform the nonsense into communication. Of course, in the process the pattern will have been broken, manipulated, revised, but really that in itself is the essence of new information."