Ben Brown Fine Arts presents green light, our third solo exhibition of American artist Ena Swansea, at the London gallery. The gallery's first solo exhibition since lockdown, the title green light implies the chance to at last put one's foot on the gas, after being stopped and daydreaming outside of clock time, not knowing what day it is. Swansea's new series is representative of her decontextualised and timeless style, directing attention back to painting itself.
green light features recent large-scale canvases exploring motifs that recur within Swansea's practice, including snow, sea and the urban landscape, all bordering on abstraction and demonstrating the artist's ingenuity with the painted surface.
The brilliant and the muted colours of cinema, the velvet blacks, have stayed with Swansea's work since film school. These complex, layered paintings often collapse the subtle greys found in film into a dense and impenetrable dark field. Suspended in a plane of radiant colour, the tension between light and darkness is simultaneously attracting and repelling. Swansea's attention to the effects of transparency can be seen in her experimental investigations into the myriad ways in which an image itself can be migratory, invoking an oblique political critique.
The repeating motifs almost seem to function as frames of a film that cannot be made. The artist keeps a vast archive of photographs, working in a serial manner, returning to subjects again and again. In these recent paintings, the enforced solitude sustained globally in the wake of the pandemic is telegraphed. In these images, despite the now-fraught invocation of the natural world, there is a feeling that a suave urban figure has just exited the picture. They may express a wry commentary on the mute longing for an impossible utopia found in German romanticism and English landscape painting. Their shifting hallucinogenic forms may only be the unintentional disclosures of a Manhattan painter in lockdown. Somehow these landscapes manage to feel urban.
Simultaneously representing the world while signalling that narrative is decidedly missing, these 'slow paintings' have a sense of open-endedness. These works push the boundaries of realism, investigating myriad ways to depict moments as they flash by.
The paintings are intricately layered with mixed media. Working over many years with paint chemists, the artist incorporates pulverized mica, oil, marble, and graphite, to build a luminescent and cinematic quality. Swansea is venerated by fellow painters for her unique and complex mastery of the paint surface and ability to create nuance and depth in a distinctive practice and materials.
Ricocheting between representation and abstraction, materiality and sensation, set in an alternative present that seems familiar, the paintings are often based on recognizable or benign scenes. An ocean in winter, a shorn tree sprouting new branches, a young girl suspended in the air above a swirling sea - their uncanny and hazily dreamlike depiction becomes disquieting. The nebulous images seem both to give and to withhold. It is this ambiguity that allows the viewer to relate to the works in a more personal way, as though encountering a corrupted digital image, or recollecting an obscured memory of an indelible year.
Ben Brown Fine Arts is excited to welcome visitors back to the London gallery both in-person and digitally to share these mesmerising new works.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, INTERVIEWS AND IMAGES
Katy Wickremesinghe at KTW – email@example.com / 07717 733 891
Rel Hayman at KTW London – firstname.lastname@example.org / 07853789717
Tani Burns at KTW London – email@example.com / 07888 731 419
Ben Brown Fine Arts London
12 Brook’s Mews, Mayfair, London W1K 4DG