Robert Swain

4 Mar — 29 Apr 2017 at Minus Space in Brooklyn, United States

13 MARCH 2017
Robert Swain, exhibition view. Courtesy of Minus Space
Robert Swain, exhibition view. Courtesy of Minus Space

Minus Space is delighted to present the exhibition Robert Swain: Color as Color. This is the New York artist’s third solo exhibition at the gallery and it will feature a suite of new large-format color grid paintings.

For his exhibition, Swain will present an immersive installation of three new horizontal paintings sized 8 x 12, 8 x 16, and 8 x 20 feet respectively, in which squares of pure color are arranged into grids that are subtly modulated by hue, value, and saturation. The paintings are Swain’s latest investigation into the color system he has developed and refined over the past 50 years. The catalyst of his system is a 30-part color circle. These colors, when combined with the qualities of value (the lightness or darkness of a color) and saturation (the pureness of a color), produce a complement of 4,896 distinct hues, from which Swain conceives his paintings. Regarding the development of his color system, Swain states, “I became interested in color in the early 1960s. There wasn’t a great deal of written information about it, but I work intuitively. I started to look at color and to make charts and experimental work trying to understand the phenomenology of color. I don’t look at the work as being objective. I simply look at it as a way of trying to get into the subject matter of color and to understand it through experience. And all of this was done visually. It wasn’t done mathematically. It wasn’t done in some kind of progression. It was simply done by painting color charts, looking at them, and deciding in that moment of looking if they were correct or not.”

Swain continues, “Color is a form of energy derived from the electromagnetic spectrum that stimulates our perceptual processes and is instrumental in conveying emotions. In some instances, color is culturally encoded, projecting content through symbolism or associations. The origin for such references is found in the way that the energy (wavelengths), from a particular color, generates feeling; a physiological change produced by the wavelength (energy), of a particular color or colors. The energy, which emanates from green is distinctly different from the wavelengths that define red. In some cultures, pure red is associated with danger. Feelings and attitudes created by the aggressive, radiate energy, which is unique to the red part of the spectrum. When pure red is altered, its emotional attributes change, as in the stability associated with red earth colors, or the whimsical fluctuation produced by pink. In this sense, color transmits feeling(s) through the perception of energy (wavelengths) from the electromagnetic spectrum. Freed from cultural restraints, red can be experienced by itself as a phenomenon, which possesses substantial content. When red is placed next to green, the contrast is heightened, as M. E. Chevreul has observed, and the experience resides in the energy generated by the convergence of these unique spectral wavelengths.”

Robert Swain is one of the most influential artists of his generation. He 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 40 years. His paintings have been including 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 exhibition of large paintings entitled The Form of Color at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA, curated by Jeffrey Uslip.