Robert Swain “The Perception of Color”

West Chelsea Building

Feb. 28, 2024 - Apr. 14, 2023

526 West 26th Street, 311
New York, 10001
PHONE (917) 853-8161

David Richard Gallery is pleased to present The Perception of Color, a solo exhibition of ten new paintings by New York-based artist, Robert Swain. The presentation is organized as 5 pairs of paintings related to each other by size, compositional arrangement and color pallets among other subtle formal aspects. The pairs of paintings range in size from 48 x 48 inches to 72 x 72 inches and the largest pair measures 8 foot high by 10 foot wide.

The purpose of the presentation is for viewers to elucidate and experience for themselves how they perceive color. Each pair of paintings provides two distinct color palettes with specific hues, values and shades placed adjacent to one another in arrangements to create discrete compositions. The pairs of paintings differ in terms of their arrangement of colors in blocks of 4 or 8, etc., or in subtle gradients across the canvas, as well as varying degrees of saturation and desaturation. However, the focus of each composition is solely on the colors: their adjacency to each other, how they interact with one another, and their resulting effect on the viewer’s perception of color. Therefore, the colors are the content and subject of each painting. This statement is meant to distinguish the actual content (the colors) from the grid in each composition. The grid is just the structure, or architecture, of each painting that contains distinct colors in individual squares that each measure 12 x 12 inches in size. This last clarification also makes an important point, each square contains only one homogeneous color which is critical for the viewer to perceive and understand the significance of what they see, both in their eye and mind.

When the viewer looks at the painting — placing an emphasis on “looking” carefully at the paintings and becoming immersed in the colors and composition — the viewer will begin to see striations and gradients of colors within each square, this phenomenon is referred to as color mixing. This complex phenomenon is the result of a physiochemical reaction that occurs between the viewer’s eye and brain when they view adjacent colors. This mixing in the viewer’s eye occurs simultaneously in multiple directions, up, down, and sideways, producing a kaleidoscope of colors. The viewer has a profound visual and physical experience, realizing the perceptual impact of certain colors given their adjacency to other colors in certain configurations within compositions. Thus, making both the viewer and the paintings rather animated with the experience more kinetic than initially intended as they move from painting to painting.

As noted, the color in the paintings is the content and it is delivered in 2 parts. First, the artist provides the physical component which is the canvas on a support and the individual squares of color thoughtfully organized in a grid and particular composition. The second part and critical component is the viewer with their immersive experience observing the painting, followed by the resulting physiochemical reaction and the sensation when realizing the colors. One could argue that the viewer’s perception and experience of the color is also content because one cannot deliver the content (color in this case) without the comprehension of the color. In many ways this is like a composer creating a symphony; it is physically captured as a musical score on paper, but not heard until an orchestra performs the symphony in front of an audience who receives, realizes, and responds to the musical notes and melodies.

A viewer experiencing color is the most important aspect of Robert Swain’s six-decade career of organizing and characterizing over 5,000 hues, values and shades painted with pigment and acrylic medium on canvas in a methodical and systematic approach.

About Robert Swain:

Robert Swain was born in Austin, Texas, in 1940, and grew up in Arlington, Virginia. He attended The American University in Washington, DC, where he later received a BA in Fine Art in 1964. During his undergraduate studies, he spent two years in Madrid, Spain, studying at the University of Madrid. In 1964, he moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, and worked as a studio assistant to the American Modernist painter Karl Knaths.

Swain moved to NYC in 1965 where he permanently settled in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood. In 1966, he began his first color-based work followed a year later by his first work utilizing the grid. Swain participated in his first group exhibition, Light and Line, organized by John Baldwin at the legendary Park Place Gallery in NYC in 1967. That same year he met sculptor Tony Smith who became his close friend and mentor for many years. In 1969, Swain began to develop his own color system, a project that continues until today.

Swain has exhibited his work nationally and internationally for more than 52 years. His paintings have been included in countless landmark exhibitions. He participated in the seminal exhibition Art of the Real curated by Eugene Goossen at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC, in 1968. The exhibition traveled for the next two years to the Grand Palais, Paris, France; Kunsthaus, Zurich, Switzerland; and The Tate Gallery, London, England. Swain exhibited in The Structure of Color curated by Marcia Tucker at the Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC, in 1971.

In 1974, Swain mounted his first solo museum exhibition at The Everson Art Museum, Syracuse, New York. He also participated In 1974 in Color as Language curated by Kynaston McShine and organized by the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art, which traveled throughout Central and South America, including to the Museo de Arte Moderno, Bogota, Colombia; Museo de Arte Moderno de Sao Paulo, Brazil; Museo de Arte Moderno, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Venezuela; and Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, Mexico. His work was also twice included in the Corcoran Biennial at The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (1969, 1998).

Swain’s work is represented in nearly 300 public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Walker Art Center, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Milwaukee Art Museum, Denver Art Museum, Detroit Institute of Art, Everson Art Museum, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, among others.

He has completed major commissions for IBM, Johnson & Johnson, American Republic Insurance Company, Schering Laboratories, Harris Bank, Travenol Laboratories, Tupperware World Headquarters, and the University of Buffalo. He has received awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts (1976, 1989), New York State Council on the Arts, and the City University of New York.

In addition to his artistic work, Swain taught in the Department of Art & Art History at Hunter College from 1968-2014, where he educated and mentored countless generations of artists. For his teaching, he was awarded the Distinguished Teaching of Art Award from the College Art Association in 1998. In 2010, Swain was the subject of a major 45-year survey exhibition entitled Visual Sensations: The Paintings of Robert Swain curated by Gabriele Evertz at Hunter College/Times Square Gallery, NYC.

In 2014, he installed a major museum exhibition of large paintings entitled The Form of Color at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA, curated by Jeffrey Uslip. During 2015 he had a solo exhibition at Minus Space, in Brooklyn, New York, entitled Color Energy, organized by Rosanna Martinez and Matthew Deleget. In 2016 Swain exhibited a series of “Brush Stroke Painting” at the Nina Freudenheim Gallery, in Buffalo, New York entitled: The Sensations of Color. In 2017-18 he exhibited his work in a solo exhibition at the David Richard Gallery, LLC entitled Color: Theory and Affect. In 2018 his paintings were presented in Radiant Energy, a three person show with Robert Swain, Gabriele Evertz and Sanford Wurmfeld at Visual Arts Center of New. Later in 2018 Swain had a major solo presentation and installation of monumental paintings, Color Syntax, in The Lobby Gallery at 375 Hudson, New York City 10014.

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