In our latest in the series of Artist To Artist Darren Coffield interviews the portrait artist Geraldine Swayne who has a new show at London’s Fine Art Society until 19 April 2017. Swayne depicts People on the verge of action populate Geraldine’s paintings, like film stills. The atmosphere is thick with tension and heightened emotion yet the narrative is obscured, like entering a room where a television has been left paused. The scenes are often awkward, haunting, sexy, bizarre, dark, or amusing – maybe all at once. Her oblique narrative references allow the viewer to project their own story onto the works.
DARREN COFFIELD: I understand that you have a new exhibition opening at the end of the month?
GERALDINE SWAYNE: Yes, it’s a 10 year retrospective at the Fine Art Society in Bond Street. There will be a variety of works some big, some small as well as some works made live on stage working with Faust over the years – maybe even some vinyl!
DARREN COFFIELD: How did the idea for a 10-year retrospective come about?
GERALDINE SWAYNE: I had just moved to St Leonards-on-Sea and a lot of paintings had been in storage for a long time so it was really interesting to see all the works together for the first time in years. The curator, Sarah, came down to my studio and with her keen eye picked out paintings and put them together thematically.
DARREN COFFIELD: You have worked on a very small scale in recent years. Has looking back over your body of work affected your approach to making new works for the exhibition?
GERALDINE SWAYNE: There will be a few new large paintings in the exhibition. I have started painting on a larger scale again and working on the small pieces in tandem at the same time so there is a dialogue going on between the pieces.
DARREN COFFIELD: How do you paint on stage with the ‘Krautrock’ band Faust?
GERALDINE SWAYNE: It’s a Fluxus thing in terms of you are where you are in the context of a live stage performance and we use any materials which come to hand. We would also order a certain amount of paint, fabric, stone etc before the show. So, for example, there might be a certain point in the show where a sculptor starts to sculpt, old ladies begin knitting or I begin to paint on stage whilst the band are playing.
DARREN COFFIELD: Do the audience get to participate?
GERALDINE SWAYNE: No, it’s a spectacle but sometimes there are audience members who get involved. We might pass the painting around and someone would decide to destroy it. The ones that survived sometimes went on to become record covers for the band after the show.
DARREN COFFIELD: Art and music have had a long relationship in the history of art. Do they feed one another in your work?
GERALDINE SWAYNE: They do but not in a literal way. They are different but the desire is the same. It’s about exposing yourself. I worked with a theatre group which was very overt about the desire to show and wanting everyone to enjoy the work in the same way. There seems to be more of a scene for this in New York where my work is better understood.
DARREN COFFIELD: You are a figurative artist and figurative art has been out of favour for a very long time. How do you feel now it’s suddenly back in vogue?
GERALDINE SWAYNE: It’s brilliant. I remember when Freeze happened and the YBAs came along. I began thinking that figurative painting was dead in the water. But it is delightful to go in the gallery now and see that the audience for figurative has grown. Of course, there were exceptions like Chantel Joffe but it feels brilliant that there is a newly receptive audience for what I paint. It feels like I have a voice again.
DARREN COFFIELD: You have become part of the East London art world diaspora which has scattered around the Kent coastline. How do you feel about that?
GERALDINE SWAYNE: It is really sad. I feel sad for the younger generation that there isn’t the time and space available for them to make stuff. You need places you can go that nobody necessarily knows about and where nobody’s watching, but you’re with each other in a community and you can do your own thing. That appears to have completely gone now in London. I remember exploring, making art and forging friendships in these cultural creeks in London’s East End. But as soon as something became known or recognised it would be eaten up and co-opted. I know many artists really struggling in their 50s. Yeah, there were a lot of pragmatic reasons why I had to leave London.
DARREN COFFIELD: As we are marking a retrospective of your work. I would like you to imagine that you have access to a time machine. What piece of advice would you like to go back and say to your younger self?
GERALDINE SWAYNE: In terms of the work, trust the subconscious side of your brain. I have been extremely lucky but I have also trusted that part of the brain which isn’t thinking critically or rationally and this has served me well in my work. In terms of being a happier person? Say what you want and don’t try to be what you think other people want you to be.
Geraldine Swayne – Fine Art Society London until 19 April 2017.