Opening Reception: Saturday, February 1st, 3 - 5 p.m.
Throughout her artistic career, Barbara Swan (1922-2003) was a keen observer of the complexities of the visual experience. While she is equally known for her portraits, her still lifes are testaments to her interest in how we perceive our surroundings and how we coax mystery out of the mundane. Favored objects such as bottles filled with water, shells and keys present alternative ways of seeing, forms within forms, and references to ways of “unlocking” what lies beneath the surface. This exhibition explores the still life theme from some of her earliest examples to some of her last.
Born in the Boston area, Swan earned a B.A. in art history from Wellesley College before enrolling at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. There she studied under Karl Zerbe, among others, and became schooled in the style and philosophy of Boston Expressionism. Early still lifes such as Bottles and Flowers, circa 1955, show remnants of the expressionist influence. The intensity of the colors—saturated oranges, reds and greens colliding—and the gestural brushstrokes laden with paint are vestiges of that influence. But the subject of the still life, as Swan asserts it, is moving in a different direction.
Like her peers Bernard Chaet and Reed Kay, as examples, Swan ultimately developed a signature style that, on the surface, deviated from the expressionist approach. Through the 1960s and ‘70s she her palette shifted and her paint application became more concise. Portraiture was often incorporated into the still lifes, creating complex layers of meaning. Towards the end of her career, Swan gravitated toward a more intimate scale, often with bold yet simplified patterns, as in Three Bottles from 1999. The bottles and other objects, Swan’s lifelong repertory, persist, as well know to the artist as a familiar face.
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