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Swallow, Ricky - 2016.19a

Ricky Swallow

Magnifying glass with rope no. 5 2014
unique state, patinated bronze and oil paint
37.5 x 10.2 x 11.4 cm
Purchased by the Faculty of Science 2015

At every turn, the material history that constitutes Melbourne-born, Los Angeles–based Ricky Swallow’s bronzes traces the ‘fact’ of their making. Through the manipulation of cardboard, glue, tape and the occasional found object, Swallow arrives at a form that is as much a sketch or drawing as a sculpted idea. Once this form is taken from the artist’s studio to the foundry and cast – the original materials lost in the process – the narrative of its making becomes unavoidable. An index of process, visible in the cardboard’s creases and cuts and in the residue of tape that holds these forms together, is permanently fixed, legible in the impression. This translation from a ‘scratch’ object, drawn and modelled with cardboard and rope, traces a line through the flux of manual studio craft to the irreversible solidity of cast bronze; the speculative nature of the maquette is confirmed through the materiality of the monument. The result of these recent bronzes is a record of fluid movement, at rest and rendered solid – both an object arrived at and an image describing, and defined by, its own making.

Swallow works with a vocabulary of common objects such as cups, candles, books and hats, subverting bronze’s relationship with both the sculptural traditions of fine art and the reproducibility offered by casting as an industrial process, as many of these works are unique. In contrast to subjects usually associated with bronze, the temporary nature of these forms (cup, candles, etc.) seem to highlight the bronze’s solidity. Where the classical nude – such as in the work of Rodin – transcends bronze’s materiality, Swallow’s everyday objects establish a contradiction, not only between the disposable and the permanent but also between Swallow’s refined, erudite compositions and the impervious, undiscriminating democracy of the casting process.

This laying bare of Swallow’s activity is in concert with the visuality of the work’s action. Often a simple, elegant movement or playful gesture is achieved with an economy of form that betrays the singularity and learned certainty of the best modernist sculpture; together these elements enable an image of thought. Rope is a regular protagonist in Swallow’s recent bronzes, often in its characteristic role as a fastener. But here it appears as an arabesque, its fluid, floating line captured in motion. Its partner in this series, a hand-held magnifying glass, retains its function as an instrument of inspection, but rather than a tool taken to investigate the specifics of a specimen, the glass is fixed into position. The rope, mid-flight, passes through its view. Not solely an object of observation – a tool with which to pause and frame – the magnifying glass becomes an object to be observed.

The implication is the primacy of maker and viewer as observers. The glass is a proxy for the artist as seer and transformer, and for the viewer as witness. This is furthered by the conceit of magnification that is apparent as an image only from a frontal perspective – that of the maker and the similarly positioned viewer – dismantled as one moves around the work. This image of suspended movement can also be read as a metaphor for the artist’s process and its result: Swallow’s bronzes freeze the process of thinking and making, allowing for permanent perusal.

Damiano Bertoli is an artist and lecturer living and working in Melbourne.