Tony Swain changes the news. He transforms broadsheets and headlines into the physical starting place for expansive, imaginative landscapes and Claudian vistas. Pasted together, multiple sheets of newsprint become hazy, glorious dreamscapes. Swain collages newspaper in layers, cutting out text, combining printed pictures from fragmented evening edition remains.
In a new commission for the Art Now space at Tate Britain, Swain has created pastoral scenes of the imagination. And it's fitting to find his works in the same institution as Constable and Turner. Swain's gorgeous, full paintings are deeply rooted in landscape-- doubtlessly one of the most British painting traditions.
Collage has long lingered on the outskirts of acceptable painting, ever since Picasso and Braque began their experimentation with collage and painting in 1907. Nevertheless, Swain asserts the relevance of collage in contemporary art by pilfering his visuals from current headlines. The centrepiece for the exhibition, "Dream Re-enactment Society" (2009) is an idyllic scene. From across the room, all you can see clearly is the deep cerulean horizon line, stone cottages on the hilltops, and laundry hung out to dry. It is only upon closer inspection that one notices that the main images in the painting have been lifted from newspapers, and perhaps the roots of the images are not so idyllic after all. The stone cottages may have been sourced from a story about conflict in Ireland, the hazy mist may have been a result of a car bomb. The disconnected, disrupted use of collage and painting not only undermine the viewer's initial perception of the scene, they also provoke the outdated notions of historical landscape painting.
Tony Swain: Temperature is Here Too is on view in the Tate Britain ART NOW space until August 16, 2009.