We invite you to explore the biography of Australian artist Ricky Swallow, as it is presented in Grove Art Online.
By Rex Butler(b San Remo, Victoria, 1974). Australian conceptual artist, active also in the USA. Swallow came to prominence only a few years after completing his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, by winning the prestigious Contempora 5 art prize in 1999. Swallow could be said to have ushered in a wholly new style in Australian art after the appropriation art of the 1980s and 1990s. His first mature work was a hammerhead shark made out of plaid, later followed by such objects as bicycles and telescopes made out of plastic. These were not hyperreal simulacra in the manner of Pop artist George Segal or sculptor Ron Mueck. Rather, in remaking these objects in altered materials, Swallow wanted to open up a whole series of associations around memory and obsolescence. In one of the works for Contempora 5, Model for a Sunken Monument (1999), Swallow made a vastly scaled-up version of the mask Darth Vader wore in the Star Wars movies, fabricated out of sectioned pieces of fibreboard, which produced the effect of a melting or compression or indeed a diffraction, as though the piece were being looked at under water. Swallow also made a series of works that featured death as a subject, including iMan Prototypes (2001), which involved a number of skulls made of coloured plastic that looked like computer casings, and Everything is Nothing (2003), in which a carved wooden skull lies on its side inside an Adidas hood. In 2005, he was selected as Australia’s representative at the Venice Biennale, for which he produced Killing Time (2005). In this piece Swallow carved an extraordinary still-life of a table covered with a series of objects (fish, lobster, lemon), seemingly out of a single piece of Jelutong maple, in the manner of the Dutch vanitas painters of the 17th century. Swallow’s artistic lineage would undoubtedly include Jasper Johns, in particular his 1960 casting of two beer cans in bronze. His work could also be compared to contemporary Australian artist Patricia Piccinini and international artist Tom Friedman. Without a doubt, Swallow belongs to a generation of Australian artists who make work outside of any national tradition and without reference to the by-now exhausted critical questions associated with Post-modernism.
- E. Colless: ‘The World Ends When Its Parts Wear Out’, Memory Made Plastic (exh. cat., Sydney, Darren Knight Gallery, 2000)
- J. Patton: Ricky Swallow: Field Recordings (Roseville, 2005)
- A. Gardner: ‘Art in the Face of Fame: Ricky Swallow’s Refection of Reputation’, Reading Room: A Journal of Art and Culture, i (2007), pp. 60–79
- A. Geczy: ‘Overdressed for the Prom’, Broadsheet, xxxvi/3 (2007), pp. 60–79
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