Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Color Sensation: Robert Swain

This month we’re eager to share the work of Robert Swain, a painter whose 50-year career has focused on the dynamics and subtleties of color.  Swain’s large-scale, rainbow-hued grid paintings explore just how color is perceived and experienced by individual viewers. 

Untitled, 10 ft. x 70 ft., 2014  Photo by Jeff McLane. From the show "Robert Swain: The Form of Color" at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2014

In his artist’s statement, Swain describes color as a transfer of energy:  Color is a form of energy derived from the electromagnetic spectrum that stimulates our perceptual processes and is instrumental in conveying emotions."  

Every visible color has a specific wavelength frequency.  Red vibrates with a steady rolling stimulus, while purple at the opposite end of the spectrum vibrates with a high variable stimulus.  These frequencies generate both biological and physiological responses that are body-based and primordial or empirically-based on one's positive or negative memories and experiences.

Untitled 712, 7 ft. x 7 ft. (1978); Untitled 703, 7 ft. x 7ft. (1978); Untitled 10 ft. x 30 ft. (1973)

Untitled, 30 Part Circle, 8 ft. 6 in. diameter. 1971. Swain's color system includes 30 distinct hues.

Swain became fascinated with ways to understand and document color in the 1960s, and soon after began to develop his own color system.  Mixing colors by hand in tiny jars, Swain painted small square color “chips.”   He created paintings by “drawing” with these chips. 

Study for Tupperware, 1981

Swain’s grid paintings, composed of carefully configured color squares, are intensified by scale: some reach as long as 70 feet.  Over the years the artist has experimented with endless configurations and juxtapositions, each producing a sense of movement and light within the work. Often the paintings show color in descending values, which gives the illusion of fading.

Untitled, 7 ft. x 7ft.-703; Untitled, 8 ft. x 8 ft. -AA. 2005-2006

“Seeing color simultaneously brings out the dimensions of color -- the light to dark qualities, the saturation, the hue—and gives to the viewer a spectral array of what the dimension of colors are about,” the artist said in the video “Visual Sensations: The Paintings of Robert Swain.” 

Swain purposefully eliminates all cultural references in an effort to present what he calls “a very direct experience, a color sensation.” 

Untitled, 10 ft. x 11 ft., 1973; Untitled, 10 ft. x 11 ft., 1973

There is a palpable sense of movement and energy in each of these paintings.  In viewing them, we grasp how color behaves on Swain's canvas.  We see red advance and blue recede.  The experience is a testament to the power of color—and the personal response it can bring out in all of us.  Each of us may select a different favorite canvas and palette which makes Swain's color message timeless.


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    "Color Sensation: Robert Swain" is an exhibition that explores the artist's work and the impact of color on art. The exhibition is praised for its immersive experience, evoking emotions and reactions through color. It celebrates the artist's meticulous approach to color and its profound effects on perception. The exhibition is a mesmerizing journey into the world of color, inviting visitors to explore its endless possibilities. The exhibition highlights the depth and diversity of Swain's work, which showcases the versatility and impact of color in art. It is a journey of discovery that invites viewers to question their perceptions of color and art. The exhibition's meticulous curation and attention to detail bring out the brilliance of Swain's creations. The exhibition underscores the significance of Swain's contribution to contemporary art and the role color plays in shaping our perception of the world. The thoughtfulness behind the curation immerses visitors in Swain's world of color. The exhibition is a memorable journey that captures the essence of the artist's innovative approach to color. In conclusion, "Color Sensation: Robert Swain" is a testament to the enduring allure of color and its ability to inspire and captivate audiences. It is an enriching experience for anyone interested in the visual arts and a testament to the power of color in shaping our perception of the world.

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