X Magazine

Swift and 'X', CJ Fox (Canadian journalist and critic)

If any proof were needed of Patrick Swift’s dynamism in both the visual and literary fields, it would be X, of which his co-editor David Wright, declared him to be ‘the true begetter and leading light'.
Here could be found Swift the painter, art philosopher and polemicist and, along with David Wright, anthologist of occulted talents ranging from the tigerish CH Sisson to the master of simplicities, Patrick Kavanagh... It was sharp and fresh so when I first stumbled on it at a Greenwich Village bookshop, I knew I had discovered something real. I was impressed by Swift’s portraits of such associates as Kavanagh, Wright, and George Barker… I was impressed too by his penetrating essays on art which read like vibrant communiqués straight from a creator’s workshop and represented a rebellion against the imposition of painting models...
Swift, I now learn, had been heating up his rebellion for some years... At a time when that champion dissident among painters, Wyndham Lewis, was denouncing ‘the Demon of Progress in the Arts’ and warning of how art historians ‘do funny things’, Swift was voicing similar complaints in a report on his Italian tour. There he noted how, among scholars of the Renaissance, ‘two very dangerous historical-aesthetic notions are commonly found, that of progress and experimentation in Art…and the idea of Ideal Beauty and Style’... On the contrary, a painting was something vital, not to be regarded merely ‘as an early this or a late that, nor as a good example of chiaroscuro or some other aesthetic or technical quality’. And he questioned another indulgence of some historians — the presentation of 'public and sociological' interpretations of the genesis of art as full evaluations. That, he insisted, was 'pernicious'...
Swift's spirited forays... against, among other things, making art 'a surrogate for religion' and turning it over to 'the progress-monger' ...he not only denied that art was a progression, with one painter supposedly picking up where another left off, but also derided the art critics 'obsession with derivation' and their neglect of the 'wide area of the unpredictable in the act of pushing paint about in the definition of an image'... As he put it in ‘Official Art and the Modern Painter’, there was something odd, personal and curious about the painter’s activity… All this smacks unmistakably of studio actualities, a welcome insertion into the critical realm of insights to be had from an insider...
In his X essays, Swift also displayed a shrewd eye for the propaganda machinations of the fashion-mongers — the deification of Newness, the conformism that lay behind a screen of ostensibly heretical innovation...
Art, Swift argued, was not about salvation. Instead, 'it speaks to us of resignation and rejoicing in reality...the more terrible the material the greater the artistic triumph'. If art was not an esoteric activity free from the constraint and 'the discipline of the subject', neither was it a social mechanism. In fact, Swift opposed anything implying 'categoric prohibitions inimicable to the spirit of art which is the spirit of real freedom'...
The contents of the seven issues of X that preceded its demise in 1962 vividly reflect the rebellious spirit that animated Swift's commentaries. From the older generation, Graves was enlisted to flay what he called the official 'trades union' of literature... From Barker came fighting verse excoriating the 'rigor leavis' of the academies while Cronin rounded on 'commitment' in poetry. The voice of the authentic ‘Painting Animal’ was heard from Swift’s working colleague Michael Andrews and (out of the ‘dangerous European stew’) from Giacometti and Mason, while Bomberg (still an unfashionable ghost) made a disarming case for drawing as ‘Democracy’s visual sign’. X gave Sisson his first real exposure and Kavanagh, among other mavericks his full head... Malcolm Lowry, scarcely known in Britain as a poet, sang hauntingly of the drunk man's bathos... Stevie Smith performed at her most unnerving. The purpose behind the whole operation was to nurture the 'anarchic volatile centre' of creativity in the arts and to promote 'the unknown and the neglected or the known but unhonoured'.
Then, suddenly at issue no. 7, X died... But it lives on in David Wright’s rich anthology, and Patrick Swift the rebel all-rounder lives on there too.
CJ Fox (Canadian journalist and critic; he met the Swift’s in London when he was Reuter correspondent there in the 1950s; he has collected and edited the essays of Wyndham Lewis), Patrick Swift 1927-83, Gandon Editions, 1993


David Wright, Introduction to An Anthology from X, selected by David Wright, Oxford University Press, 1988

X, a quarterly review of literature and the arts, flourished, or at any rate existed, between the years 1959 and 1962. It took its name from the algebraic symbol for the unknown quantity — ‘incalculable or mysterious fact or influence’ as the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it. Neither manifesto nor editorial introduced the first number: its contents were the manifesto... The unstated object of the magazine was...to provide a platform for the individual vision rather than second-hand avant-gardisme or accepted attitudes...
The true begetter and leading light of X was Patrick Swift...
I met Swift in (to quote his words) 'the Bohemian jungle of Soho, where practitioners of the arts and letters were thick on the ground, though not professors of these activities'. And in a sense X was born in that Bohemian jungle, a society which, as I now realize, was as extraordinary as it was short lived...
The pubs in Dean and Old Compton Street, and those in Rathbone Place, were then a rendezvous for the arts, and even the sciences, where you could, by day or night, encounter poets, painters, and musicians — Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and Malcolm Williamson among others — and such survivors of Montparnasse (of which Soho was the lineal descendant) as Nina Hamnett; not to mention odd-bods such as the Librarian of the House of Lords and the rightful king of Poland. It was in those days the kind of 'convivial university' that Ivan Illich was later to advocate; a successor to the informal gatherings of poets and artists that had been going on since the 1890s in places like Cafe Royal, the Eiffel Tower in Percy Street, Fitzrovia, and the pubs near the British Museum. At any rate it was in Soho that I received the best part of my education, from people as diverse as W.S. Graham, Roy Campbell, John Heath-Stubbs, Hugh MacDiarmid, and not least from Swift himself.
Soon after we met Swift disappeared, having won a travelling grant from the Irish Committee of Cultural Affairs...Meanwhile I had got involved, first as adviser, then as associate, and finally as co-editor, with a 'little review' called Nimbus...I looked on my connection with Nimbus as an opportunity to get into print work that I knew was good but not the fashion of the day (these were the years of 'consolidation' and 'commitment'). Thus, when I took up the reins as co-editor, Nimbus published a batch of fourteen poems by Stevie Smith whom, mirabile dictu, the literary periodicals of the day ignored...The next number printed another batch of nineteen poems by Patrick Kavanagh *[*These poems had been posted to me by Swift...]... their publication in Nimbus led to the appearance of Stevie Smith's Not Waving But Drowning, and of Kavanagh's Come Dance with Kitty Stobling...
But after a year as co-editor of Nimbus my connection with it came to an end. Early in 1957 I resigned...However, eighteen months later...a letter arrived from Swift inviting me to come in with him to edit a new magazine on the lines that he and I had wanted Nimbus to follow...
Through the poet David Gascoyne, Swift had become acquainted with an extraordinary old lady, one of the last survivors of Bloomsbury. This was Mary Hutchinson, a cousin of Lytton Strachey... It had long been her ambition to start a magazine devoted to literature and the arts, and as editors Swift and I seemed to her to be the answer. This was before the days when literary magazines could get financial backing from the Arts Council...However, Mrs Hutchinson and he were confident that she would be able to find a backer for the venture...And, sure enough, Mrs Hutchinson eventually succeeded after no more than a few months in finding a backer...
He turned out to be a most unlikely patron for the kind of venture that Swift and I projected. Our benefactor was Michael Berry, now Lord Hartwell, the owner of the Daily Telegraph. He undertook to guarantee the first four numbers of X, and proved to be an ideal backer — he never interfered. Indeed, I never even met him. We were able to draw a small salary for our work as editors, and apart from Swift and myself there was no other staff, for we had determined to cut out all unnecessary expenses. Thus there was no grand launching party, and for an office we rented, at about £5 a week, an attic room in New Row off Covent Garden...This office really served as an accommodation address, for we were rarely in it except to collect mail and answer correspondence...Our real offices were the saloon bars of the nearby Salisbury public house or the White Swan just opposite: here we met, and conferred with, contributors whose work we were interested in.
The first number of X was carefully planned and well received. Philip Toynbee hailed it in the Observer as 'an event, if only because a literary magazine of this kind has not existed for a long time. The admirable impression of a review devoted to attacking both the corruptions of an established avant-garde and the dreary "retrenchments" of the age is reinforced by every article and poem which appear here'. In a leading article the Times Literary Supplement was also laudatory: 'A concern for "rethinking" about the nature of literary and artistic experience is apparent throughout the pages of X, and gives the whole of the first issue a unity uncommon among periodicals now'. About 3,000 copies of the first number were sold, and the circulation of X remained at this figure, more or less, until its demise. Much of its impact was due to the layout that Patrick Swift designed, and to its unusual format, which was in fact determined by the dimensions of a menu card in a caff off Victoria Station where we happened to be having a cup of coffee.
To begin with we were resolved to avoid insularity. Poems, essays, and graphics by European writers and artists like Robert Pinget, Yves Bennefoy, René Daumal, Ghika, Oskar Kokoschka, André Masson, O.V. de L. Milosz, Philippe Jaccottet, Jules Superveille, H.A. Gomperts, and others appeared in our pages — though in the present anthology considerations of space and copyright difficulties have precluded me from representing them as I should have wished.
Swift was, of course, responsible for the art side of the magazine. These were the boom years of abstract art. Swift, twenty years ahead of his time, launched a series of penetrating attacks on the cult... as well as promoting the work of then unknown or unfashionable figurative painters, among them the young Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, and Craigie Aitchison, and such as-yet uncannonized painters as Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, and the forgotten David Bomberg. Examples of their work were reproduced; more importantly, it was Swift's idea that the artist should speak for themselves, which was achieved either by transcribing their tape-recorded conversation (not 'interviews', wherein questions loaded with some obtuse interrogator’s 'impercipience' tend to darken council), or by publishing their notes. Swifts’ unearthing and editing of David Bomberg’s outspoken and apocalyptic pensées, scattered about his miscellaneous papers, was an outstanding contribution.
All exercises in criticism or exegesis published in X were written, be it noted, by practising painters, writers, or poets; a deliberate policy, for already a cloud no bigger than the dead hand of academe was hovering over the arts....
Our first two numbers were filled with work by writers and artists we knew, or knew of. But by the time the third number of X appeared we were starting to attract unpublished writers of the kind we were looking for, but had begun to despair of finding...
X survived for nearly three years, and ended with its seventh number. After our first year, when his original guarantee expired, Michael Berry generously agreed to back a further two numbers while we looked around for another Maecenas. Though optimistic about our prospects — after all, as someone remarked, we had won our first backer with nothing but a nimbus and a swift tongue — wherever we tried we drew a blank; and to tell the truth, we did not try very hard. If our efforts were lukewarm, it was not because we felt the job we had set out to do with X was anything like accomplished; it was because neither of us felt we could stand much more of the stress and pressure to which we were subjected. Besides, we had our own work to get on with. Mary Hutchinson, without whom the magazine would never have come into being, proved to be its old lady of the sea. Almost daily letters, almost twice-daily telephone calls, conveying an endless succession of notions, suggestions, and sometimes demands that the work of so-and-so be included, and some key essay or article thrown out to make room for it, emanated from that quarter... There was not a page of the magazine that we did not have to pay for with hours of argumentation, till in the end Swift had to give up answering his telephone altogether... This well-meant harassment finally inhibited us from any serious effort to continue the magazine, although, financed by the sale of old letters and manuscripts that had accumulated from past numbers, we did manage to bring out a seventh, and valedictory, issue. This accomplished, Swift and I were free to pursue our different avocations.
David Wright, August 1985, Introduction to An Anthology from X, selected by David Wright, Oxford University Press, 1988


Apart from providing a platform for such then-neglected poets as Patrick Kavanagh, George Barker, Stevie Smith and Hugh MacDiarmid, its editors hoped — though not too confidently — to uncover some of the 'unknown quantities' that they knew might be finding it difficult to get into print, either because their ideas and attitudes were not among those currently received, or their verse and prose not cut to the fashion of the day. In this respect the magazine did pretty well, considering its short life... Two novelists — John McGahern and Aidan Higgins — and several now well-known painters, including Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, and Craigie Aitchison, were first featured in its pages... But the best justification of the magazine, and of its editors' ambitions, was the discovery, or rather the recognition, of two or three authentic but unpublished — and at that time apparently unpublishable — poets...
P.N. Review, On X Magazine, Fourteen Letters (to David Wright), C.H. Sisson, PN Review 39, Volume 11 Number 1, July - August 1984


I wrote a first novel with a pretentious title, The End or Beginning of Love. A friend was interested in it, Jimmy Swift, who was also responsible for getting Patrick Kavanagh into print at the time, liked it and sent it to his brother, Patrick Swift, who was editing a magazine called X in London with the poet David Wright. They liked it and published an extract. That was my first time in print. The magazine was influential, though, like most magazines of the kind, it was short lived. Many painters, like Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, wrote for the magazine. I met these people when the magazine invited me to London. I was in my early twenties. I had very little experience of the world and found the bohemian lives around Soho fairly alarming. The extract in X attracted interest from a number of publishers. Fabers, among other publishers, wrote to me. T. S. Eliot was working at the firm then.
John McGahern, in an interview organized by Linda Collinge and Emmanuel Vernadakis for the JSSE 20th, anniversary celebration, May 24, 2003 link


A Memoir of George Barker
by Martin Green
London Magazine, Oct/Nov, Volume 33/ Numbers 7 & 8, 1993

...it was through another literary aspirant at the time who was also doing his national service in the Royal Signals, that I came to meet George shortly afterwards. This was Tristram Hull, and together we started a literary magazine which we called Nimbus... Among the editors recruited over the years were Ivo Jarosi, David Wright and Christopher Logue...
Amongst George's immediate court were the deaf South African poet David Wright and the near-blind poet John Heath-Stubbs. David Gascoyne was also a member, and among the artists were Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde — 'the Roberts' — and John Minton. Another striking character was the self-styled people's poet, Paul Potts...
I'm probably jumping several years, but I was at this time an editor at McGibbon and Kee...
The advent of Brian Higgins on the London literary scene probably occurred before the proceedings above, but certainly and for a while, he was very much part of my life as he was of George's. His arrival was due to an invitation extended by Patrick Swift and David Wright, who has started a new literary magazine which they called The X Review, funded by the Berry family, owners of the Daily Telegraph... He had submitted some poems from Hull, where he lived, which they wanted to publish, saying that if he was ever in London he should introduce himself. The 'X' crowd then met in the Swiss Hotel in Old Compton Street, and Higgins arrived clutching his belonging and a typewriter.
It was apparent that Higgins needed a bed for the night, and David, who was married to the New Zealand actress Philippa Reid, and had a small flat in Great Ormond Street, passed over the honour to Patrick, who lived in a sprawling basement in Westbourne Terrace with his wife Oonagh and a couple of young daughters, beneath a flat occupied by Elizabeth Barker...
Among the 'X' crowd was the poet Anthony Cronin (sometime literary editor of Time & Tide) who had taken over George's cottage in Haslemere after George left for America. Higgins became friendly with Tony and his wife Theresa, and was a frequent guest of theirs. Higgins, before his arrival in the capital, had corresponded with the poet Roy Campbell, he being a great admirer of the South African...
Everybody at the time seemed to get caught up in the manuscript business, Dom Moraes, George Barker himself, as well as Higgins...
Martin Green, 'A Memoir of George Barker', London Magazine, Oct/Nov, 1993


By Heart
Elizabeth Smart - A Life
Rosemary Sullivan

Elizabeth's life was very social. She had numerous friends in Soho as well as professional friends. She continued to meet Barker when he came up to London — he was still living with Cass. The editors of X magazine, Patrick Swift and David Wright, would meet at her flat in the beginning of the sixties to do interviews, and Elizabeth sometimes offered her drawing room as a sort of office where they would hammer out their editorials. The artist Craigie Aitchison recalled being interviewed there by Paddy Swift, and Elizabeth wrote their words down, including the bits from the pub where they adjourned afterwards... The painter Frank Auerbach remembered her coming into The French one evening, having made thirty pounds in a couple of hours writing advertising for Jaeger fashions; they went back to the Westbourne Terrace flat, and, though the pipes were frozen, she produced food and drink. He, being penniless in those days and unable to get home, had fallen asleep on a bed and awoke to find a pound note in his pocket. "This happened two or three times. She deemed it a matter of course to make sacrifices for artists," said Auerbach. Over the years there was often somebody in residence, including Robert MacBryde, Mrs Watt's son Sholto Watt, John Deakin, Michael Asquith and his second wife, Hase, or Anthony Cronin and his wife.
Rosemary Sullivan, By Heart, Elizabeth Smart - A Life, p.274, Flamingo, London, 1992


Brian Fallon (art critic)

Swift's criticism is that of the practising artist not that of a practising critic, and when speaking of his criticism I do not merely mean only his occasional critical essays, but his activity as co-editor of a magazine and as champion of Bacon, Freud, Auerbach, Craigie Aitchison, Nano Reid, Giacometti and David Bomberg (whose posthumous papers he edited). This is criticism in the valid, active , propagandistic sense, not merely the daily or weekly grind of reviewing all sorts and conditions of artists, good and bad, but mostly mediocre. Once again much of Swift's activity in this field was semi-underground, almost subversive, often done in the teeth of the modernist establishment of his day. His record in this field speaks for itself. He had natural taste, he had the instincts of a born artist, he had intelligence and sufficient erudition, and he had firm and articulate opinions. I certainly cannot think of any other Irish painter who achieved anything like what he did as a critic and editor and discoverer of talent, and very few painters in any other country either. Wyndham Lewis, it is true, was a verbose propagandist, but on the whole he was a bad critic, and somehow his propaganda almost always turns out to be some form of self-aggrandisement, whereas Swift almost always pushed the fortunes and reputations of his friends and almost never his own. Yet, you do not get, from his general stance, that his motives were simply friendship and good intentions. There is a tone of dedication throughout, as though he was serving art, and not merely artists.
It is a peculiarity of his very individual psyche and personality that Swift cannot be ‘placed’ purely as a painter. He was an artist in the broad sense before he was specifically a painter, and his context embraces literature and other disciplines besides painting or drawing (It is noticeable that he had more friends who were literary men than friends who were painters). Swift is not a painter’s painter, he is an artist’s artist, a man whose mentality overlapped into other fields besides his own chosen one. Perhaps that was easier in the fifties and early sixties than it is today... there does not seem, in fact, to be a broad and inclusive culture today which embraces all the arts as a unity... Swift may have been lucky in that he lived in a milieu in which a synthesis was possible, but his synthesis was of his own making.
Brian Fallon, taken from his essay 'Patrick Swift and Irish Art' (1993), Patrick Swift: An Irish Painter in Portugal, Gandon Editions, 2001; first published: 'Patrick Swift and Irish Art', Portfolio 2 - Modern Irish Arts Review, Gandon Editions, Cork, 1993


A concern for 'rethinking' about the nature of literary and artistic experience is apparent throughout the pages of X, and gives the whole of its first issue a unity uncommon among periodicals now... There is some strenuous critical writing indeed in this periodical as other contributors take up the aesthetic theme again in relation to the novel, painting and architecture.
Times Literary Supplement

An event, if only because a literary magazine of this kind has not existed for a long time... The admirable impression of a review devoted to attacking both the corruptions of an established avant-garde and the dreary 'retrenchments' of the age is reinforced by every article and poem which appears here.
Philip Toynbee, The Observer

One can't say that X is an unknown quantity any more. X + 1 had it in for Commitment in the shape of Mr Christopher Logue; X + 2 takes on Mr Kingsley Amis, Mr Alvarez, Mr Conquest, Mr G. S. Fraser, New Criticism, Dr I. A. Richards, the Spectator, and the International Literary Annual. It's the Counter-Revolution.
New Statesman, John Mander, 'Explosions in the sky', X Quarterly Review, 9 April 1960

X has established itself as a serious and important Quarterly devoted equally to writing and to painting... X is beautifully designed and well printed; in fact it has finally established a standard of production which other and future literary periodicals will have to live up to.
Paul Potts, Tribune, 'Literary feast', X, a Quarterly Review, 29th July 1960

X is a magazine dedicated to genius, passion and intelligence: it has the ease and authority of all excellent creations.
Time and Tide

A new magazine is usually launched with bottles and streamers; X seems quietly to have slid into circulation and has now been for a year on its mysterious voyage. It certainly fills a need, for none of our established magazines can be described as a workshop for new talent... The art articles are outstanding — the young or less-known painters benefit from the handsome format and from the excellence of their own prose styles; some intelligent editing is going on here... X is performing a real service... Individualism, an interest in the soul, a respect for our revolutionary past, indifference to the topical label, a love of good painting and something rather painstaking which is not afraid of dullness, characterizes this new quarterly.
Cyril Connoly, The Sunday Times

The quarterly review X carries most of the burden of trying to find new talents... it is concerned with 'ideas at the more vital stage where art is actually made and with clarifications that make the issue more precisely defined at this level'...it grows more and more useful and lively.
Malcolm Bradbury, 'The Literary Magazine', The Guardian, Jun 3, 1961

X ran for seven large, fat, beautifully designed issues... of course X's best things survive. The painters contributions (among them statements by Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews and David Bomberg) are probably those with the longest term effects.
Anthony Thwaite, 'Out of the Soho jungle', The Observer, Sept 4, 1988

David Wright's and Patrick Swift's legendary X set the common agenda for a generation of European painters, writers and dramatists.
Michael Schmidt, 'Poésie sans frontières', The Guardian, Saturday 15 July, 2006


Dublin Oil - Dublin Watercolour/ Ink - Italy - Oakridge/ Ashwell Watercolour - Oakridge/ Ashwell Oil - London Oil - London Watercolour/ Ink - France - Algarve Oil - Algarve Watercolour/ Ink - Self-Portraits - Trees - Portraits I - Portraits II - Porches Pottery - Books - Misc - Algarve Studio
Note: many of the reproductions displayed here are of poor quality

By Swift
Nano Reid - Some notes on Caravaggio - Italian Report - The Artist Speaks - X magazine - RHA Exhibition 1951 - Eça de Queiroz & Fernando Pessoa - The Portuguese Enigma - Notebooks - All

About Swift
Patrick Swift: An Irish Painter in Portugal - IMMA 1993 Retrospective Catalogue - Dublin 1950-2 - By His Friends - X magazine - Poems - Further Quotes About - All

By His Friends
Anthony Cronin - John Ryan - John Jordan - C.H.Sisson - Martin Green - John McGahern - David Wright - Lima de Freitas - Katherine Swift - Tim Motion - Lionel Miskin - Jacques D'Arribehaude - Brian Higgins - George Barker - Patrick Kavanagh

Further Quotes
Brian Fallon - Aidan Dunne - Derek Hill - Brendan Behan - Lucian Freud - Patrick Kavanagh - Elizabeth Smart - Further Quotes About