Robert Swain: Color Energy
by Hovey Brock
The Brooklyn Rail
When I was a child, I had a set of forty colored pencils that I arranged, rearranged, and then rearranged again in a seemingly endless parade of color sequences, or “rainbows,” as I called them. This play brought me great joy. That same spirit, in his words, “energy,” lies at the heart of Robert Swain’s motivation in making the five paintings, all from 2015, on view at Minus Space’s attractive new ground-level gallery in DUMBO. Swain communicates this joy through his extraordinary command of color; works that could have been cold formal exercises become pulsating patterns full of life and drama, especially in the case of the larger, most “energetic” paintings.
Mastering color’s fugitive complexity has, since the ’60s, been Swain’s obsession. A member of the Hunter Color School, which includes Sanford Wurmfeld, Gabriele Evertz, Doug Ohlson, and others, Swain has committed his practice to an investigation of what he calls “the phenomenology of color,” which is to say the subjective experience of color, through trial and error. Like his cohort, he brings a mind-boggling rigor to that process. His system as it now stands includes a thirty-piece color wheel, which, when extended through variations of value (light versus dark) and saturation (intensity), creates a set of approximately 4,900 distinct hues…