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New York City


Walter Swennen

    Freely associative, and above all humorous, Swennen’s paintings explore the relationship between symbols, legibility, meaning and pictorial treatment. His supports are often found objects: sheets of scrap plastic, metal shelf components, panels of salvaged wood.


    Although his oeuvre varies greatly in scale, style and materials, it can be construed as an ongoing exploration into the nature and problems of painting, the fundamental question of what to paint and how. He does not think that a work of art should provoke an emotion; the main objective of a painting is painting itself. His art is concerned with what is missed or over-looked in the attempt to visualize or communicate with what doesn’t automatically get through.


    Swennen was a poet before he began to paint. For him, words are not reliable signifiers but incoherent cries. They fight for space with non-signifying elements, and dissolve into them. The understanding of language in Swennen’s career is vital because, although he stopped focusing on ‘written’ paintings, the subjective power of words remain an essential part of the works and our interaction with them. He plays word off image not to score a deconstructive point, but to intimate how painting is subservient to neither.


    His world is always modest, intimate, even personal. This modesty is also structural, synonymous with his reluctance to believe that painting’s language can carry beyond the expediently improvised forms of an individual painting. Most of Swennen’s works are characterised by fragmentary subjects and naïve, caricatured forms influenced by the creative spirit of the 1960s and 1970s.


    Swennen’s aversion to the artistic system means that he has not adapted to self-promotion, which is perhaps one of the reasons he is not well known internationally, and this also has to do with the work itself, whose variety may seem puzzling to those who expect an artist to develop a singular style.


    Unpretentious, playful and often slyly humorous, Swennen’s works are deliberate and rigorous explorations into the essence of painting that cement his place. He is always unpredictable, always in progress. By his own admission, he paints the most difficult subject of all: anything and everything, a form of creative ‘whatsoever’.

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