Robert Swain was born in December 7, 1940 in Austin, Texas and lives and works in New York. He completed his education at the American University in Washington, D.C. in 1964. Since moving to New York City in 1965 he has exhibited regularly and participated in over ninety solo and group shows. He has been awarded ten major commissions and architectural installations and is the recipient of many prestigious awards and grants, including the grant in painting from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Distinguished Teaching of Art Award from the College Art Association. A total of 284 of his works can be found in major private and public collections such as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Denver Art Museum, the Detroit Institute of Art, the Everson Art Museum, the Columbus Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Milwaukee Art Center, the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“French painters, he would continue, may have seen a rainbow. Nature may have given them some taste for nuance, some sense of color. But I have revealed to you the great and true principles of art. I say of art! of all the arts, gentlemen, and of all the sciences. The analysis of colors, the calculation of prismatic refractions, give you the only exact relations in nature, the rule of all relations. And everything in the universe is nothing but relations. Thus one knows everything when one knows how to paint; one knows everything when one knows how to match colors.”
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from The Essay on the Origin of Languages
Color is a form of energy derived from the electromagnetic spectrum that stimulates our perceptual processes and is instrumental in conveying emotions. In some instances, color is culturally encoded, projecting content through symbolism or associations. The origin for such references are found in the way that the energy (wavelengths), from a particular color, generates feeling; a physiological change produced by the wavelength (energy), of a particular color or colors. The energy which emanates from green is distinctly different from the wavelengths that define red. In some cultures, pure red is associated with danger. Feelings and attitudes created by the aggressive, radiate energy, which is unique to the red part of the spectrum. When pure red is altered, its emotional attributes change, as in the stability associated with red earth colors, or the whimsical fluctuation produced by pink. In this sense, color transmits feeling(s) through the perception of energy (wavelengths) from the electromagnetic spectrum. Freed from cultural restraints, red can be experienced by itself as a phenomenon, which possesses substantial content. When red is placed next to green, the contrast is heightened, as M. E. Chevreul has observed, and the experience resides in the energy generated by the convergence of these unique spectral wavelengths.
Robert Swain has spent his entire career devising a unique system for organizing over two thousand colors and studying how humans interact with and feel color. His approach to color is less theoretical and more empirical as evidenced by his highly systematic approach to painting over the past four plus decades. Through his rigorous evaluations, Swain has gone beyond how we perceive the physical effects of color to how we experience the emotional and physiological sensations produced by color in certain arrangements and configurations. Thus, his paintings go beyond physical observation to a phenomenological affect.
Robert Swain thinks of color as energy and a trigger for a series of physiochemical reactions in humans that results in certain sensations. Through abstract painting, Swain can uncouple color from any cultural signifier and cognitive system and examine the pure affect of color on the human psyche. The emotional and psychological ramifications result from the combination of the particular colors, their values and degree of saturation as well as adjacency to other colors, overall organization and scale. In this exhibition, two series of Swain’s paintings will be presented: the well known meticulous grids with their flat pristine surfaces and his newest all-over paintings with their lush painterly surfaces referred to as the “Brushstroke” series.
Robert Swain received a BA Degree from the American University in Washington, D. C. in 1964. Currently, he lives and works in New York City and is a Professor at Hunter College. He has had eighteen solo exhibitions, the most recent being a major retrospective at Hunter College / Times Square Gallery in 2010. His work has been included in over sixty group exhibitions, including The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum, The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. In 1968 he was included in The Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Thirty-First Biennial and again in 1998 for The Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Forty-Fifth Biennial. Swain’s artwork is represented in over 284 private and public collections, including The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Detroit Institute of Art, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, The Milwaukee Art Center, The Everson Art Museum, The Denver Art Museum, The Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.