As an abstract painter Jane Swavely experiments with the picture plane in her work, but, over the past years through exhibition design, her work also negotiates the architectural planes beyond the canvas. Le Corbusier innovated architecture by using the body as a starting point in designing furniture and buildings that would suit its proportions. This hyper-awareness of the body is reflected in Swavely’s exhibition at A.I.R Gallery. With an exhibition design that places the work closer to the body, the works are low-hanging and one sits lush to an entryway.
It is part of the human condition to decipher, understand, and find meaning. Abstract art, therefore, poses a problem, as it is not representational—it does not imitate objects, people, or surroundings—and sometimes has no meaning. Swavely’s most recent body of work plays with the concept of finding meaning. The exhibition’s title describes our innate ability to perceive shapes, pictures, or meaning in visual stimuli, where there is none: pareidolia.
Presenting six paintings, “Pareidolia” did not provoke me to find meaning, but rather to sit and relish in the randomness of the works. Contemplating texture and how paint was applied: through brushstrokes, wipes, smears, or rubbings. Or, considering how the horizontal and vertical bands of color took hold of my body. Not attempting to conceptualize the work, these particular details become the most important. Portal-like, the works penetrate and emanate in stark contrast to the neutrality of the walls they hang on. Upon entering, “Silver OID #4” can be seen across the room, hung nearly touching the floor, like the doorway you enter into the gallery space through. It is silver with an alarming orange horizontal band through its center. The piece is marked by texture, an unevenness that draws attention to the properties of the oil paint itself. A further play on words an OID is an identifier in computing.
Accompanied by the looming presence of pareidolia and its psychological or supernatural connotations and the unusual placement of the works, I found myself considering the spaces in between and around the paintings. With its single vertical and horizontal bands, it is as if “Silver OID #5” continues somewhere beyond the canvas. While “Licked Painting” drew me in, like a swimming pool set in concrete amidst a canyoned landscape—LA perhaps? David Hockney’s “A Bigger Splash” comes to mind. Where Swavely’s painting is the splash: unattainable and unstable.
Marking the end of an era, the exhibition will be Swavely’s last solo show at A.I.R Gallery. After being an active member for over a decade even on the board of the artist-run gallery and feminist non-profit organization Swavely is leaving. Leaving seems to have had no effect pn her output. This last hurrah is consistent with her previous work, for each new series, new assemblages of color, form, or application appear on the canvas, while further cementing a new way to exhibit painting.
“Pareidolia” is not the first exhibition that Swavely uses her canvases to re-center the bodily experience of experiencing painting in new ways. In “Jane Swavely” at Union College’s Mandeville Gallery in Schenectady work was also hung unconventionally. The space itself—a circular building with a rotunda at its center—opened for experimentation. The gallery is comprised of two semicircular balcony-like areas facing each other. The works that were installed on panels acted like windows to the outside, showing a landscape between the real and the surreal. With a studio in upstate New York, Swavely’s work investigated the surrounding landscapes’ horizon lines, in some works pushing them vertical. The overall impression was topsy-turvy.
Setting aside perceived familiarity within, or beyond, the works in “Pareidolia” it is clear that each work is an outstanding form of abstract painting with an apt ability to both dominate a space and hold the viewer’s attention.
Pareidolia: Jane Swavely was on view at A.I.R. Gallery, 155 Plymouth Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201, October 15–November 13, 2022.
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Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is editor-in-chief and founder of Cultbytes. She mediates art through writing, curating, and lecturing. Her latest books are Assuming Asymmetries: Conversations on Curating Public Art Projects of the 1980s and 1990s and Curating Beyond the Mainstream. Send your inquiries, tips, and pitches to email@example.com. l igram l website l