Is Geraldine Swayne The Best Portrait Painter In Britain Today?




An exhibition of paintings by the British artist Geraldine Swayne featuring a number of new works has gone on view at The Fine Art Society. The title of the show, ‘Silvering’, refers to Swayne’s use of silver and gold grounds and aluminium and copper surfaces, reflecting the artist’s interest in the surface quality and material value of her work. 

Suggestive and mysterious, Geraldine Swayne’s paintings are populated by people on the verge of action, 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. Swayne’s scenes are often awkward, haunting, sexy, bizarre, dark, or amusing – sometimes all at once. Her oblique narrative references allow the viewer to project their own story onto the works.

Geraldine Swayne’s paintings are populated by people on the verge of action

The source material for Swayne’s imagery is diverse, from personal photographs to pornographic magazines. The ‘Lydia’ paintings are based upon childhood photographs given to Swayne by the writer and performer Lydia Lunch, while ‘Danish Dirty Dolls’ is named after the pornographic magazine from which the image came.

The immediacy of Swayne’s work is evident in both her large-scale canvases, with sweeping loose, acrylic brushwork, and her intimate miniature portraits, painted with enamel on small copper or aluminium panels. The self-portrait ‘Great Big Slag’ particularly demonstrates the raw haste with which Swayne ejects her inner thoughts. There is a subtle brevity of form and lightness of touch to Swayne’s style, which aligns her with artists such as Edgar Degas, and more recently Chantal Joffe, Ron Kitaj, and Marlene Dumas.

Placing an emphasis on the surface quality and material value of the work, Swayne has cited the 16th-century goldsmith, Nicholas Hilliard, as an influence in seeking to make paintings that are also inherently beautiful objects. Some of the larger works use silver and gold grounds that anticipate the artist’s use of aluminium and copper surfaces. Swayne deftly manipulates this unforgiving medium so that, in her own words: ’they almost look good enough to eat’.

An artist, musician and filmmaker, Geraldine Swayne is noted for navigating the complex relationships between painting, music and film. Her multifaceted and distinguished career includes winning a Northern Arts Travel award to paint and make super-8 films about Voodoo in New Orleans.

She moved to France in 1991 painting portraits and large outdoor paintings for the Marie of St Jean de Fos. Since 1999, she has made numerous experimental films including the world’s first super-8 to Imax film East End, produced by Cathy Shaw, and narrated by Miriam Margolyes with music by Nick Cave. After leaving the film industry in 2004 she worked as an assistant for Jake and Dinos Chapman rebuilding ‘Hell’.

Although better known as a painter she joined experimental rock group …bender in 2005 and in the following year, the seminal ‘Krautrock” group ‘Faust’ with whom she has recorded two albums and toured widely, making musical improvisations and live paintings at venues such as the Wrexner Centre for the Arts in Ohio, Detroit Museum of Contemporary Art and CalArts.

As a painter, she has been exhibited in numerous group and solo shows at including the Barbican, Calvert 22, L-13 and Fred, London. In 2010 she was a finalist in the John Moores painting prize, Walker Gallery, Liverpool. In 2014 she was awarded a live/work residency at Acme Fire-station in East London, where she now lives and paints.

GERALDINE SWAYNE  ‘SILVERING’  Fine Art Society London 28 MARCH – 19 APRIL 2017 Free


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