Jon Swihart: A Place Apart

Frye Art Museum, Seattle
December 10, 1999 - February 6, 1999

Untitled(1991)
Untitled(1991),
oil on canvas

This exhibition comprises selections of work executed over the past two decades by realist painter Jon Swihart. Although this artist works entirely from contemporary models, landscape and interior architectural situations, his inferred symbology is inspired by schools as diverse as Renaissance religious art and Dutch genre painting of the 17th century ñ both of which were built on time-tested precepts that imparted in painting not only optical veracity but incontrovertible meaning. The situations revealed in Swihartís genre scenes are nonetheless cryptic, if one is not familiar with his sources. Their effect alternates between the real and the surreal. Mysterious rituals or occurences take place in commonplace settings, provoking a variety of interpretations by the viewer. In an untitled 1991 work, Swihart has borrowed the theme from Titianís 1562 The rape of Europa, placing a sumptuous female nude peering around a hoary tree trunk in an autumnal forest, her back turned to a small sculpture of a white bull placed on two cement blocks, a silver pitcher and candlestick holding an unlit white candle. The woman can hardly be ravished by this bull (originally, Jupiter in disguise) and if anything, is looking expectantly elsewhere. One possible explanation is that Swihart is exploring the potential of psychological power in Renaissance-style painting in a 20th century devoid of belief in real gods and goddesses. Another interpretation would be that he simply loves the drama and heroicism attached to an opulent if anachronistic belief system, while luxuriating in his minutely-rendered, virtuoso painting technique.

© Ted Lindberg