SW Austin’s works explore – with the utmost integrity, with an in-depth knowledge of historical and contemporary issues in painting, and with an inherent sense of serious play – what it is to make serious and powerful paintings at home. time in which we live. a multi-leveled terrain that highlights an interplay between process, meaning and expression.
The question of what painting is, as a serious enterprise, and what it can be, has been at the heart of very advanced artistic practice and critical discourse since the end of the 19th century. It is a key, almost defining element of modernism as a broad philosophical movement, later shifting to postmodernist mode and beyond.
However, in recent decades, postmodernism, globalization and new media have transformed our idea of culture. Old divisions between high and popular tropes have become fluid, but as painting has vied for attention with installation and time-based media, it retains acute power as a cultural medium. Indeed, paradoxically in the age of the internet, painting is perhaps the most subversive form of art, due to its sheer humanity. While much of our visual culture can be experienced through reproduction – film, television and even theater – painting – and visual art in general – may be the only medium that demands direct one-to-one interaction. head between the work of the artist and the person who engages with it.
One-on-one interaction is absolutely essential for an engagement with SW Austin paints. His paintings are an alchemical fusion of expressive paint and often three-dimensional surface. In his search for what painting can be, he “constructs” each painting – one could say that he “makes” a painting rather than “paints” it.
Austin uses a diversity of materials ranging from canvas to wood—often found objects—as mediums for his paintings. In his creative process, he inserts areas of wood constructed from assembled elements, adds areas of wood to the surface of the canvas/wood in a DIY form, and cuts into the paint often creating space for reveal the wall behind. This is done with a speed and fluidity that is reflected in its simultaneous application of paint.
By drawing attention to his process and the materials he uses, and in his belief that serious work should be self-reflective, Austin has common cause with Greenbergian imperatives. His paintings, however, reject the need for formal purity and specificity of Greenberg’s medium in favor of a deliberate problematization of the painted surface.
Austin uses a wide variety of materials to create sculptural incident, and he has a menagerie of approaches to expressive paint application and mark-making at his disposal. His painted and drawn marks cannot be confined to figurative or abstract polarities. They subliminally reference everything from architecture to landscape to ancient hieroglyphics. Fluently using color, they merge with her disturbed and sculptural surfaces to create powerful and vital paintings that demand to be experienced one-on-one for serious engagement.
In doing so, they demonstrate that painting is a visceral art, an art with multiple levels of intellectual, sensual and emotional meaning and which, in Austin’s hands, is carried out with an impressive level of integrity and rigor.
Geoffrey Nawn, September 6. 2015
Copyright, Geoffrey Nawn 2015