If a reviewer were being facetious he might say that Tony Swain’s subject is The Guardian. In his new exhibition at the Fruitmarket, the ubiquitous broadsheet is pasted, painted, and generally altered to the artist's content.
But Swain does more than just collage; he constructs paintings in which newspapers play a key role. Interlaced with the collaged elements, he paints in acrylic with the relish of a Post-Impressionist amidst a tonal palette of greys, rusty reds, and rich blues. It’s the interplay between the printed elements and the hand-painted ones that makes his work all the more contemporary.
The exhibition has been spaced thinly, giving the viewer plenty of room to peer closely at the relatively small works individually. Hung without frames, the transitory nature of the work is emphasised (newspaper will, of course eventually fade), even if it makes the smallest pieces look a little sparse.
Swain has a knack for exploiting the gap between representation and abstraction. Whilst some works conjure up exotic locations, others are highly ambiguous and some border on mere pattern. Newspaper photography is crowded with bits of other newspapers and patches of painted colour.
Notwithstanding the exhibitions variety, Swain makes works that look tactile and visually appealing. Giving works titles such as The liar’s several attempts or First time with a lasso displays a certain flippancy towards subject matter. He clearly places more focus on qualities like colour and surface, not trying to do anything exeedingly complicated with what each piece might represent. This decision is overwhelmingly positive, meaning that he can spotlight formal merits to an extent that one might even call beautiful.