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Everything is healing nicely Spring 2006 Vitreous Contemporary Art, Truro
It’s rare that there is an exhibition in Cornwall of art-work that is aggressive, brash, tasteless and trashy: but that is what Swiftie managed to serve up in great big spades in his solo exhibition at Vitreous Contemporary Art. We’re so used to seeing genteel, refined and well-mannered work in the galleries here, that Swiftie’s show came as something of a shock. But then that’s partly what he intended.
Having pride of place in the middle of the main gallery space was a ceramic turd several metres long. Coiled and knotted and adorned with plastic flies it was, to be frank, disgusting. Looming over it was an image of a skeleton lying flat, as if about to rise from its slumbers and chase the viewer back down Mitchell Hill again, called disturbingly, ‘Mother stands for comfort’. The same room featured a painting celebrating the last King of Cornwall, and another featuring an improbable encounter between the dead author William Hazlitt and the very much alive Abi Titmus exclaiming (whilst covering her breasts) “I’m searching for the now, I’m looking for the real thing’.
But aggressive and trashy is not sufficient in itself, and of course it would be completely wrong to imply that Swiftie’s work was lacking in finer qualities. Far from it: these larger paintings, though assertive and bold, also had a playful and effortless wit and zanyness that tempered their hard-hitting initial impact, and rewarded closer inspection.
Importantly alongside the paintings on canvas, and really by way of contrast, Swiftie also showed some of his more tender, lyrical pieces. Often executed on a small scale some of these works had such a heart-rending pathos that I did n’t know whether to laugh or cry. ‘Think about how you will feel when they are gone” was almost reminiscent of William Blake’s illustrated texts in its poetic marriage of word and image.
Swiftie is a highly prolific artist who struggled with dyslexia at school: his art has always been his means of expression, and through his work as an illustrator and graphic designer he has brought the same psychological intensity and honesty to all his output. It’s this honesty and the insights that come with it, that makes his work seem less genteel and refined than most of the other well-known artists in Cornwall. Long may it continue.