Made to Perplex Us?

Alexandra LoSordo is joining the KAB team with reviews of local art shows. Welcome!

I was overcome with nothingness when I was exposed to Robert Swainston’s exhibit in the Massry Center for the Arts at the College of Saint Rose, which registered as strange to me considering I’m a very emotional person. At first glance, his use of lithography, silkscreen, woodblock, and etching seemed unimpressive – just blocks of color, overlapped with more blocks of color, while occasionally incorporating images. However as I got closer to each piece, I found I was immersed in his creation of another dimension, which was made apparent in his use of bends, folds, and cut outs of the various materials.

With every longer gaze, I appreciated the show more. I especially enjoyed his combination of natural elements (such as animal print and tree bark patterns) with prints and mixed media in linear forms. He also incorporated elements of history by sneaking in sentences that appeared to be from history textbooks. In “Proposition 4”, these historical elements are evident as he showed an image of former president Ronald Reagan, an article photograph of a church who’s caption read “Joyous response keeps kids coming to Sunday school”, and a depiction of disciples/church figures. Swainston frequently exhibited a weave technique by overlapping strips of paper and colored light gels. One piece titled “Proposition 29” with lime and turquoise gels was my favorite of this series of 24. The colors worked extremely well together to make an eye-catching work of art. His use of color and popping-out materials greatly enhanced what would’ve been a boring 2-dimensional series. The fact that he made 3-dimensional pieces, while framed and seemingly flat, made this exhibit worthwhile. If his works hadn’t had as much depth as they did, his collection would’ve held no weight.

Again I was troubled with the feeling of disinterest as I came across Machine 1, 2 and 3 simply because they seemed so busy and gigantic that I didn’t think my brain could comprehend and absorb every detail. But yet again, Swainston slowly but surely caught my attention. Initially I was looking at them as three separate pieces, but I soon began to recognize some of the same images in all three. Feeling proud of my discovery, I realized that these pieces worked together to show a progression. The second print, a large black and white, seemed to be the original since the same black and white elements appeared in all three. The first added red and white images to the black and white piece, and the third piece incorporated the previous two overlaying each other while adding all different colors.

There was more to see in his exhibit that I found left me unresponsive. I was neither inspired nor unimpressed by his exhibit, however he can thank his lucky stars that I’m a patient person. I don’t know that I would’ve spent as much time as I did observing his work if I wasn’t so tolerant, but I’m glad I did. This could very well be his downfall: the first glance isn’t as captivating as the closer look.

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