It is hard to ignore that we are “living in a sceptical...thought-tormented age," this line taken from Joyce’s short story The Dead is significant to Mark Swords’ new body of work, in which he references this profoundly moving story and its sense of unease. These new paintings have a similar sense of unease in how they depict every-day life encounters. In his practice Swords deliberately creates obstacles, determined to make work that is removed from his mark-making as a painter. This attempt to separate aesthetic decisions from the process to become an instinctual painter creates a specific tension in the work. It is in these obstacles and constraints that Swords places on himself where one views his unease and conflict.
For Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Mark Swords has created theatrically staged paintings that have come into being through a series of gestures that juxtapose the idea of making and unmaking. The paintings, often overwhelming in chromatic saturation and design denote the artist’s instinctive knowledge of colour. Layers of mark-making create a screen through which the buried undertones and colours emerge. He consistently moves between abstraction and figuration looking for discoveries and accidents in his works, appropriating painting conventions to create a stylistic collage. The hand-made is a significant element in his practice, printed fabrics are stitched to the canvas creating layers of shapes and forms, while the paint application can be both refined or crudely impasto. Within some of the paintings he has used draped curtains to create a framing device. A painted backdrop pinned to the wall becomes the larger framework for the paintings. These framing devices anchor the work in a celestial sphere creating associations between the paintings while playing with ideas of display and exhibition making, Swords creates a complex mosaic of works that can be viewed as a whole or singularly.
The motifs in the work are taken from the everyday and reference charity shop windows, graffiti, amateur posters and signage, all of which stem from the artists’ surroundings. The landscape and modernist architecture emerge from the more subdued work. Text appears in the paintings often receding into the background of the work. This play with concealment and exposure is consistent throughout the work.
Swords pieces mimic vignettes not unlike short stories; they encapsulate a narrative that unfolds. He is interested in memory and the marks of past lives that are reflected in the painted sheets and pillowcases. This brings us back to Joyce and his last paragraph of the The Dead when he reflects on how one’s accumulated experience and misbegotten acts finally dissolve to become nothing in the end. Swords is interested in the minutia and the broader philosophical questions of which there is no definitive answer.
Mark Swords (b. 1978, Dublin, Ireland) studied at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. His recent exhibitions include; Mystery Ewer, (two person show), ArtBox (2016); Hinterlands, Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin (2014); I won’t say I will see you tomorrow (2013), a group project and multi-venue exhibition curated by Aoife Tunney, and Mosaic, Wexford Arts Centre, Wexford (2012).