Ena Swansea

Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc. 

The strip-malls.  The torn-up forests.  Where does the shadow of Empire fall?  We can see it here in America, at the crosses of telephone poles and cellular towers—and we can see it all over the world, in the Asian sweatshops of Western Corporations, in the street urchins of South America.  Ena Swansea, native to North Carolina, is no stranger to this shadow.  America’s South has a history that lends itself to a deeper understanding of cultural and economic confrontation, and defeat.  At the end of the twenty-first century, Swansea was appropriately obsessed with the shadow, investigating the subject literally and abstractly in large-scale oil paintings.

"If the leafy, stem-like forms in her paintings were a degree or two less definite, we would call Swansea an abstractionist.  If these forms were a touch more referential, she would count without question as a realist….  The major precedent for composition attenuated to the point of dissolution is Claude Monet’s series of mural-sized Water Lillies.  Swansea obviously knows those paintings well.  Moreover, she understands what Jackson Pollock was up to when, with his dripped and poured images, he broke through the boundaries of traditional composition."  —Carter Ratcliff

Employing a unique process of a graphite ground, Swansea achieves a surface that is alternately luminous and dusky, and antagonistic to the division of abstraction and figuration which, prior to the political and global shift of the War on Terror, etc., had atavistically lingered in the art world.  Within the latest  socio-political paradigm, however, that distinction, especially in New York, has fallen away.  New York, from the moment of the dust cloud that enveloped the city, has entered the shadow, and pretensions that New Yorkers once lived by—in art and fashion, for example—have become distinctly unpalatable.  Through the ten mostly epic-sized paintings of “Situation,” Swansea has also entered the shadow of the New World Order.  There is a distinct seriousness, a rent in the pop-culture fabric of fabulosity.  In Dinner, one of Swansea’s figures has shed his shirt, unable to withstand even that simplest cultural definition.  All of the figures in the work are somewhat indistinct, especially as juxtaposed to the objects on the table, which they surround.  We are participants at a banquet—each utterly alone, and but murky phantoms to one another.  Swansea takes on multiple aspects of the contemporary world: the gasoline and coal burning horsepower of Car and Train, the pedestrian nature of evil in Devil.  The artist asserts a range of implications that remain true not only to her process of fabrication (equate her extraordinary graphite ground with coal, and then equate the coal with oil), but of her place in the history of painting.  In an interview with Barry Schwabsky, Swansea explains: 

"The old model of the abstract expressionists, Pollock in particular, ruins everything for figure painting.  Once abstraction was a western frontier, wild and unexplored.  It had limits that could not be seen.  A century later things have frozen up and now the limits tend to block the view of the possibilities.  The shadow paintings try to find one way of remembering the possibilities, of a glimpse at the unfamiliar, grafted onto a simple-minded armature—a lily shadow or something like it.  The figure paintings go out into that more internally mysterious spot….people."