It’s rare these days to see the level of craftsmanship that Australian artist Ricky Swallow exercises with his sculptural works with wood. Paper bags, rucksacks, car tyres and even a sleeping bag are painstakingly carved from woods such as tulip, jelutong, black walnut and English lime to beautiful, tactile effect. The level of detail is fantastic, and making complicated folds of ‘fabric’ fall realistically or representing a snake intertwined with the strap of a cycle helmet are real feats of skill. He also tackles more traditional subject matter exploring death and mortality, and skulls and skeletal figures are recurring themes, referencing the classic subjects portrayed in Vanitas paintings. The impressive level of detail in his magnum opus, 2004’s Killing Time - a large kitchen table with a rumpled tablecloth and various dishes seemingly abandoned during preparation, complete with fish and seafood scattered across it - would perhaps give the great Grinling Gibbons a run for his money.
Swallow has also created a series of bronzes of different panels scattered with gunshot which are really interesting. Reflecting the idle, mindless diversions of bored youth whiling away endless days, they hint at the slow passage of time which his more representative explores more obviously.
Now based in Los Angeles, Swallow also paints watercolours – portraits, or studies of skeletons in muted tones – which are similar in feel to the work of Karen Kilimnik or Elizabeth Peyton, but these don’t feel as special or immediate as his sculptural work.