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Robert Swain's scaled color studies for monumental series on view at David Richard Gallery

March 11, 2021

NEW YORK, NY.-David Richard Gallery is presenting a selection of smaller scaled studies created by Robert Swain to confirm the colors and their corresponding interactions prior to producing the much larger paintings. These are detailed studies for paintings from several different iconic series created by the artist from 1987 through 2020. They are prepared the same way as the larger paintings, with the same care and precision on the same supports (except for some earlier studies on Masonite panels) and the same paint as the larger counterparts.

The earliest larger paintings that correspond to the studies in this presentation ranged in sizes and compositions from slightly horizontal orientations of 6-foot x 7-foot to larger ones measuring 10 foot by 6 foot as vertical compositions painted in 1993 and 1987, respectively (Images below). Both series explored asymmetric compositions in terms of the varying size of the squares of color and several larger blocks of the same hue and how the sizes effected the phenomenon of color blending through the viewer’s eye.

Other studies correspond to much larger horizontal paintings with uniform grids spanning edge-to-edge, comprised of interior squares measuring 12 x 12 inches on canvases that measured 9-foot x 12-foot and 8-foot x 16-foot. These larger canvases are an immersive experience (as are even larger paintings) that Swain has created for several exhibitions since 2014. The spectral migration of colors across the canvases generate gradual opposing gradients of color that begin from a diagonal boundary across the canvas with more neutral values at that boundary and from which the gradients of color become more saturated towards the far left and right edges, making the compositions more dynamic.

The final group of studies are square and correspond to large canvases that measure 7-foot x 7-foot. One of the larger series from 2015 were subtle paintings with related colors that are not highly saturated except towards one of the outer edges. The more recent series are from 2019 and 2020 and correspond to a new aluminum support that Swain is starting to use. The latter palettes are new for Swain and the colors more jewel-toned and saturated.

Robert Swain’s exhibition, Scaled Color Studies for Monumental Paintings: Selections From Iconic Series Since 1987, will be on view March 3 through March 26, 2021 in the Project Space at David Richard Gallery located at 211 East 121 Street, New York, New York 10035, P: 212-882-1705. Everyone can interact and participate in the exhibition in several different ways: 1) in person and safely socially distanced while wearing a face covering; 2) privately by appointment; and 3) online at the following link: to view the checklist and installation images as they become available.

Robert Swain’s Paintings

New York artist Robert Swain continues his creative use of the square as his compositional element of choice for characterizing over 5,000 colors, their values and degrees of saturation. But, more specifically, he uses the square element and the resulting grid compositions to elucidate the color blending between adjacent hues that viewers experience while viewing his iconic paintings. Swain’s artwork and life-long project is studying the human response to color. His paintings are much more than grids of color, they represent 50 years of systemic studies of how color and color juxtapositions affect the way human’s view color and their effect on human psyche. His paintings demonstrate that the human eye will start to blend adjacent colors in certain ways such that the viewer sees a harmonization (blending) of the colors or an entirely new color. It is quite remarkable and a viewer can actually experience this phenomenon with the digital images below if one can concentrate on their monitor with minimal glare and distraction. The viewer will see the colors begin to shift and new faint bands of color appear that are mixtures of the squares of color from the left and right or top and bottom of the painting. These bands of blended colors will shift in different orientations and directions with different compositions and organizations of the color as well as the viewer’s distance and angle of position relative to the painting.

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 that included him in pattern painting as a participant in the Criss-Cross artist cooperative along with many notable like-minded artists from New York and Boulder, Colorado in the 1970s and early 80s.

Robert Swain

Robert Swain was born in Austin, Texas, in 1940, and grew up in Arlington, Virginia. 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, he began his first color-based work followed a year later by his first work utilizing the grid. Swain 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, Swain mounted his first solo museum exhibition at The Everson Art Museum, Syracuse, New York. He also participated In 1974 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.

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