S.W. Austin’s works explore – with the utmost integrity, with a deep knowledge of both historic and contemporary issues in painting, and with a inherent sense of serious play – what it is to make serious and powerful paintings in the times we live in. They occupy a multi-layered terrain that foregrounds an interplay between process, meaning and expression.
The question of what Painting, as a serious endeavour is, and what it can be, has been at the core of much advanced art practice and critical discourse from the late 19th Century onwards. It is a key, almost defining, constituent of modernism as a broad philosophical movement, later segueing into postmodernist mode and beyond.
Across more recent decades however, postmodernism, globalization and new media have transformed our idea of culture. Old divisions between high and popular tropes have become fluid, yet, whilst Painting has vied for attention with Installation and Time-based media, it retains an acute power as a cultural medium. Indeed, paradoxically in this age of the internet, Painting may be the most subversive art form, through it’s sheer humanity. When so much of our visual culture can be experienced through reproduction – film, television and even theatre – Painting -and visual art broadly- may be the only medium that demands one-on-one direct interaction between the artist’s work and the person who engages with it.
One-on-one interaction is absolutely key to an engagement with the paintings of S.W. Austin. His paintings are an alchemic fusion of expressive paint and often three dimensional surface. In his endeavour to explore what painting can be, he “constructs”each painting – it may be said that he “makes” a painting rather than “paints” it.
Austin uses a diversity of materials from canvas to wood – often as found object- as the support for his paintings. In his creative process, he inserts areas of wood built up from assembled elements, adds areas of wood to the canvas/wood surface in a form of bricolage, and cuts into the painting often creating a gap to reveal the wall behind. This is done with a speed and fluency which is echoed in his concurrent application of paint.
In drawing attention to his process and the materials he uses, and in his conviction that serious work must be self reflexive, Austin has some common cause with Greenbergian imperatives. His paintings however reject Greenberg’s need for formal purity and medium specificity in favour of a deliberate problematization of the painted surface.
Austin makes use of a wide ranging variety of materials to provide sculptural incident, and he has at his disposal, a menagerie of approaches to the expressive application of paint and mark-making. His painted and drawn marks cannot be confined to figurative or abstract polarities. They subliminally reference everything from architecture to landscape, to ancient hieroglyphics. Fluent in their use of colour, they fuse with his disrupted and sculptural surfaces to create powerful and vital paintings that demand to be experienced one-on-one for serious engagement.
In doing so, they demonstrate that Painting is a visceral art, a multi-layered art of intellectual, sensual and emotional significance and one which in Austin’s hands, is realized with an impressive level of integrity and rigour.
Geoffrey Nawn, September 6th. 2015
Copyright, Geoffrey Nawn 2015