The paintings in the Uffizi gallery are hung from floor to ceiling, the floor space sprinkled with neoclassical sculpture – the atmosphere is more overwhelming than rational.
Mark Swords’ strategy subverts the main gallery of the RHA and the conventional display its architecture offers. We enter a seemingly empty gallery and then discover a raw construction in the center of the space. Swords has built his own Tribuna, but not of marble and stone but of wooden studs, plaster boards and wooden buttresses for support. There is a reveal here, an insistence on the artifice of architecture and an awareness of spatial context when viewing art.
Inside, the artist offers a convention of sorts. The walls hold paintings hung in a salon style, but these walls are made of different forms of plaster board – the silver of insulation board, the pink of damp proofing, the dull grey of the regular product. The floor is also made from this material, the space is as familiar as it is unsettling.
The artist presents a range of paintings where technique, scale and content all vary and jostle for our attention. There is an anarchic nature to the display and we must work to access a point of engagement. Swords refers to ‘the suspension of disbelief” an act of the viewer to trust the artist’s authenticity no matter what the circumstance.
In writing about his response to Alan Garland’s film Ex Machina (2014) Swords remarks on the workstation of the robot inventor having several monitors and a wall completely covered with post-it notes. He discovered a caption underneath an image of this wall that reads “when the accumulation of his ideas are taken together they make up his larger observations”.
Mark Swords’ work evokes in the active viewer, an awareness and attention to all of the parts of the presentation and from their sum to engage and enjoy the communion with the art and the artist.
Mark Swords (b. 1978, Dublin, Ireland) studied at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. He lives and works in County Wicklow, Ireland. Swords has exhibited his work widely, both nationally and internationally and is represented in numerous collections. Recent exhibitions include Portico, 2021, a two person show with Tanad Aaron at The Complex, Dublin and Tauchgang, 2019, a group show at Galerie Christian Lethert, Cologne, curated by Fergus Feehily and Daniel Lergon. Lost Highway Guy, 2018, was Swords’ fourth solo show at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin.
His previous public solo show in Ireland was The Living and the Dead, 2017, at Temple Bar Gallery and
Studios, Dublin. Other notable exhibitions include, VOLTA Basel, 2014 and I won’t say I will see you tomorrow, 2013, a group project and multivenue exhibition based on the writings and architecture of Ludwig Wittgenstein curated by Aoife Tunney. Swords was the recipient of the AIB art prize in 2010, as a result of this in 2012 he staged a solo exhibition in Wexford Arts Centre and published a book both titled Mosaic. Also in 2012 his work was included in several important group shows including: Painting Now, Ron Mandos Gallery, Amsterdam and Making Familiar, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin, curated by James Merrigan and Robert Armstrong. Other group exhibitions include Futures, 2009, RHA Gallery, Dublin, selected by Patrick T. Murphy and Look Again, 2009, Purdy Hicks, London curated by Aidan Dunne. His work has been included in both Creative Ireland: The Visual Arts [Contemporary Visual Art in Ireland 2000 – 2011] curated/edited by Noel Kelly & Seán Kissane and Visual Artists Ireland 2011 and A Dictionary of Living Irish Artists, Robert O’Byrne, Plurabelle, 2010.
Image 01: Mark Swords, The Garden (detail), 2021, Acrylic and various materials on canvas, 35 x 46 cm, Image courtesy of the artist.
02. Mark Swords, Important Dinosaurs in My Life (detail), 2020, Various materials on board, 200 x 157cm, Photography Kate-Bowe O’Brien.
03. Mark Swords, The Tree of Life, 2019, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 168 x 166cm, Photography Kate-Bowe O’Brien.