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  • Writer's pictureDavid Eichholtz

Robert Swain: New Color & Grid Abstractions on Aluminum Supports

New York artist Robert Swain continues his creative use of the square as his compositional element of choice for characterizing over 5,000 colors, but more specifically, to elucidate the color blending between adjacent hues that viewers experience within his iconic grid paintings. Swain, a color theorist has dedicated over five decades of his career to methodically and systematically exploring this phenomenon. In 2020, he explores a range of new palettes on an all new aluminum support. Swain has leveraged the grid and Geometric Abstraction not only for his investigations into color and human visual perception, but his systemic and rigorous process has included him in Pattern Painting and participant in the Criss-Cross artist cooperative that included many artists from New York and Boulder, Colorado in the 1970s and 80s.

In addition to these selections, Swain has produced several larger horizontal paintings on aluminum supports and is working on a series of smaller works in the range of 60 x 60 inches square. 

There is a great selection of paintings on canvas in the sizes of: 60 x 60”, 72 x 72", 84 x 84” and 96 x 96 “ as well as much larger horizontal paintings. 

Robert Swain Untitled 7x7 4 x 20

2020 Acrylic on aluminum panel  84 x 84"

Robert Swain Untitled 7x7 26x6 Red Green

2020 Acrylic on aluminum panel  84 x 84"

Robert Swain Untitled 7x7 Red & Green Gray

2020 Acrylic on aluminum panel  84 x 84"

Robert Swain Untitled 7x7 Red & Green Complement

2020 Acrylic on aluminum panel  84 x 84"

ROBERT SWAIN Robert Swain was born in Austin, Texas, in 1940, and grew up in Arlington, Virginia. During high school in the late 1950s, he spent his summers in Guatemala and Nicaragua working on the Pan-American Highway. He attended The American University in Washington, DC, where he later received a BA in Fine Art in 1964. During his undergraduate studies, he spent two years in Madrid, Spain, studying at the University of Madrid. In 1964, he moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, and worked as a studio assistant to the American Modernist painter Karl Knaths.

Swain moved to NYC in 1965 where he permanently settled in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood. In 1966, Swain began his first color-based work followed a year later by his first work utilizing the grid. He participated in his first group exhibition, Light and Line, organized by John Baldwin at the legendary Park Place Gallery in NYC in 1967. That same year he met sculptor Tony Smith who became his close friend and mentor for many years. In 1969, Swain began to develop his own color system, a project that continues until today.

Swain has exhibited his work nationally and internationally for more than 52 years.

His paintings have been included in countless landmark exhibitions. He participated in the seminal exhibition Art of the Real curated by Eugene Goossen at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC, in 1968. The exhibition traveled for the next two years to the Grand Palais, Paris, France; Kunsthaus, Zurich, Switzerland; and The Tate Gallery, London, England.

Swain exhibited in The Structure of Color curated by Marcia Tucker at the Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC, in 1971.

In 1974, he mounted his first solo museum exhibition at The Everson Art Museum, Syracuse, New York.

In 1974, he participated in Color as Language curated by Kynaston McShine and organized by the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art, which traveled throughout Central and South America, including to the Museo de Arte Moderno, Bogota, Colombia; Museo de Arte Moderno de Sao Paulo, Brazil; Museo de Arte Moderno, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Venezuela; and Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, Mexico.

     His work was also twice included in the Corcoran Biennial at The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (1969, 1998). Swain’s work is represented in nearly 300 public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corcoran    Gallery of Art, Walker Art Center, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Milwaukee Art Museum, Denver Art Museum, Detroit Institute of Art, Everson Art Museum, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, among others. He has completed major commissions for IBM, Johnson & Johnson, American Republic Insurance Company, Schering Laboratories, Harris Bank, Travenol Laboratories, Tupperware World Headquarters, and the University of Buffalo. He has received awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts (1976, 1989), New York State Council on the Arts, and the City University of New York. In addition to his artistic work, Swain taught in the Department of Art & Art History at Hunter College from 1968-2014, where he educated and mentored countless generations of artists. For his teaching, he was awarded the Distinguished Teaching of Art Award from the College Art Association in 1998. In 2010, Swain was the subject of a major 45-year survey exhibition entitled Visual Sensations: The Paintings of Robert Swain curated by Gabriele Evertz at Hunter College/Times Square Gallery, NYC. In 2014, he installed a major museum exhibition of large paintings entitled The Form of Color at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA, curated by Jeffrey Uslip. During 2015 he had a solo exhibition at Minus Space, in Brooklyn, New York, entitled Color Energy, organized by Rosanna Martinez and Matthew Deleget. In 2016 Swain exhibited a series of “Brush Stroke Painting” at the Nina Freudenheim Gallery, in Buffalo, New York entitled: The Sensations of Color. In 2017-18 he exhibited his work in a solo exhibition at the David Richard Gallery, LLC entitled Color: Theory and Affect.

By David Eichholtz

September 21, 2020

New York

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