Patrick Swift: An Irish Painter in Portugal - IMMA 1993 Retrospective Catalogue - Dublin 1950-2 - By His Friends - X magazine - Poems - Further Quotes About
Patrick Swift and Irish Art
By Brian Fallon (chief arts critic to The Irish Times for 35 years)
Patrick Swift was other things besides being a painter. He was, in fact, a key cultural figure in Dublin (and London) before his voluntary withdrawal to Portugal and virtual disappearance from artistic life in either an Irish or British context. As an artist and as a man, he discovered himself rapidly, and his first exhibition at the Waddington Gallery in 1952 established him as a mature and individual painter while he was in his middle twenties. Victor Waddington had a flair for recognising genuine talent... After the triumph of his first show, Swift could have looked forward to an assured career and place in Irish art. Instead he packed his bags and left for London, where he was only one more artist among thousands. He became the friend and intimate of some of the best living painters and poets, who accepted him as an equal, one of themselves, and with David Wright he became joint editor of the magazine X, a remarkable publication which, in some respects, was light years ahead of its time. Yet he formed no relationship with any official or quasi-official art group, nor did he seek a regular berth with any of the established London galleries. When Victor Waddington moved to London in 1957 and opened a new gallery in Cork Street, Swift could well have resumed his former ties with him, but there is no proof that he ever tried to do so; in fact, there is a tradition that Waddington offered him a show, and he refused. Throughout his years in London, when he was right at the nerve centre of its art and literary life, he showed little interest in exhibiting his work, and, in fact, had only two shows in his entire career.
There is, of course, an enormous gap between the art world of the 1950s and that of today. The 1960s, in historical retrospect, has proved to be a watershed in cultural as well as social life, and the outlook of the era immediately before it is probably hard to grasp for anyone who has grown up in the interim. Indeed, it represents an entirely different outlook, a different intellectual climate and set of values...
In the 1950s, by contrast, Modernists in Dublin were still relative outsiders who relied on the support of a strictly limited number of liberal-minded buyers, critics, and propagandists...There was, to be brutally frank, little or no money in modern art except for the elite dealers of Paris and, to a lesser extent, of New York, and, in any case, it was a period of austerity, particularly post-war Britain... there was a greyness and a corrosive sense of anxiety which coloured — or, more accurately, discoloured — life in general. The reverse, and positive, side of this was that those people who were active in the arts were not there to make money, since money was very rarely to be had; neither was there the type of media publicity which nowadays is taken for granted. To be an artist, in the genuine sense, was a serious matter, a vocation rather than a livelihood. This explains the tone of the intelligentsia of the period, cynical about public affairs, contemptuous of the media rather than courting them... It was a mentality closer to Baudelaire than to the cheerful populism of the Beetles a decade later, and, in fact, Baudelaire was an essential part of the intellectual diet of the time (In Swift's case, he was a virtual obsession. In London he painted several pictures of the spirit or ghost of the poet)
Irish art, when Swift appeared, had varied between the moderately progressive... and the dug-in, fingers-in-ears conservatism of the older academicians... Yet, while Swift may seem a rara avis in this artistic climate, he was less isolated in Irish art than he appears today... he belonged — insofar as a man so individualistic can belong to any specific trend — to a tendency which showed itself in the Living Art exhibitions of the early 1950s. It was in this context that Swift first made his mark, even before Waddington took him up... a number of figurative painters who emerged in the early fifties via the IELA, and which included, besides Shackleton, Swift himself, Edward McGuire, Patrick Pye... These people were in no sense a group or alignment, though several of them were linked by friendship or sympathy. They were much too disparate and individualistic for that, too uninvolved in art politics, too much outside any dominant fashion of the day. It is difficult to pinpoint what they had in common since it was not a style as such, more a quality of mind and sensibility. All one can say is that all of them drew well, tended to use quiet or tonal colours, and were original and personal without being obviously innovatory in a formal sense.
It is generally accepted that the great influence on Swift was Lucian Freud... In fact, for many years after he left Dublin, he was remembered mainly as Freud's leading Irish follower. This was almost inevitable, given that his first and only exhibition was notably Freudian and that Freud's reputation was so high at the time (it went into temporary eclipse later, under the abstract domination which lasted for perhaps a decade). But though the influence is plain to see, there are big temperamental and even stylistic differences between the two men; Swift probably would have painted very much as he did if he had never seen a Freud canvas. They shared a common Zeitgeist, but their emotional worlds were not the same, in spite of the rather tense, spare, more-real-than-real quality which they have in common. Freud works, or at least worked then, in predominantly pale colours, with a strong, wiry outline learned partly from Picasso and Leger, partly from painters of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) in Germany. His work was artfully flat, with a minimum of modelling or relief, and usually achieved with characteristically thin paint. Swift, in such works as the 1951 self-portrait, was generally darker in tone, less mannered, more inclined to give both figures and objects a place in space, and to model in light and shadow.
What they shared was the ability to give ordinary objects an aura of tension and strangeness, a quality noticed by the Irish Times art critic 'GHG' (Tony Gray) when he reviewed the Waddington exhibition. A motif of Swift's work at this time was his bird imagery, which appeared to him to have symbolic overtones, and may even have been a subtle form of self-portraiture. Certainly Seamus Kelly, in his 'Quidnunc' column a few days after the Waddington opening, noted that the artist himself resembled one of his own birds — beaknosed, sharp-eyed, wiry, with a kind of nervous, intense presence. The self-portrait mentioned bears this out, with its questioning, almost withdrawn look. This is the typical Irish artist-intellectual of the post-war years, reared on Joyce and Baudelaire, introspective, cerebral, at once cynical and idealistic, at odds with much or most of what the society around him believed in or affected to believe in. It was a type common enough in the Dublin bohemia of which Swift, for some years, was an essential figure...
From all of this, Swift's basic tendencies and mentality emerge plainly enough, and though his style changed considerably over the years, his essential personality as an artist never did. He was plainly not interested in the formalist aspects of Modernism... He wanted art to have an expressive, emotive, even psychological content, though not in any literary sense... Considering Irish writers and artist are proverbially slow to mature, his case was quite exceptional.
This is not to ignore the fact that there are immaturities and moments of awkwardness in his early pictures, reflecting the fact that he was largely self taught (although, in any case, the kind of art teaching which Dublin offered at the time would merely have frustrated or enraged him)... This occasional technical and formal lameness is only the negative side of a very considerable virtue — his total lack of slickness and convention, the sense of personal dialogue and struggle between the artist and the subject.
It could be said without overmuch simplification, that Swift's entire early work tends to treat everything and everyone as still life...
However, after his arrival in London his style changed, not immediately but gradually and very thoroughly. In fact, it was less a stylistic change than a transformation. From being a painter with sharp, angular outlines and a thin paint surface, he became one who 'drew with the brush', modelled in heavy, laden strokes, and, in general, daubed and dragged the paint around until it did his bidding.
Stylistically his 'first period' and 'his second period' could hardly be more different from one another, though the underlying sensibility somehow remains the same... It is dangerous, however, to generalise too much or too widely about Swift's development, since it is so inadequately chartered. He did not date or sign his work, or even give his pictures titles... and though he liked on occasion to write about other artist's work, past and present, he did not discuss his own except in the most general terms... he is a headache to write about in any but the loosest chronological terms.
One motif which he took with him to London was a love of urban views seen from a window — his studio, presumably — of old gardens and backyards, an everyday world somehow peopled with possibilities of human lives and encounters. This world existed very strongly in Dublin at the time, especially behind the tall Georgian or neo-Georgian houses of Baggot Street, Pembroke Road, Waterloo Road, and other quintessential Southside areas. It had a special appeal, or at least a special significance, to the bohemian intelligentsia of McDaid's and other literary pubs, who often lived temporarily in such places and certainly went to parties, discussions or drinking sessions in them. Just as the Soho or Camden Town of Sickert's time remains embedded in his work, so the psychological aura of the 1950s haunts Swift's paintings, as it does Lucian Freud's rather similar views from his various London studios. The milieus of McDaid's and of bohemian Soho, after all, were closely allied, and many people, including Swift, travelled from one to the other...
Swift's portraits of George Barker, Patrick Kavanagh, David Wright and others of his circle include some of his best works, and are among the finest portraits painted in Britain at this period. A deeply cultured man himself, with literary tastes, he was specially qualified to interpret in paint the complex, individualistic people who were his contemporaries or friends. Once again, his approach was basically humanist, not formalist... In the George Barker portrait there is an obvious residue of Cézanne, and in a sense the work is rather a transition between his earlier, sharp-focussed style and the more ‘painterly’ one into which he was moving. The Kavanagh and Wright portraits, however, mark a complete change or liberation, and show that by now Swift was close to Expressionism. Incidentally, the Wright portrait is larger than lifesize, which enhances its effect of almost baroque monumentality. The portrait of David Gascoyne by contrast is leaner and more refined in style, perhaps one of Swift's finest.
Since Expressionism was not at all in favour in England (or Ireland) at this time, it is very relevant to wonder what precisely moved Swift in this direction. Partly, no doubt, his own volition, and in the virtually underground art circles he was moving in there was a certain Expressionist strain, even though it was confined to a few. Bacon, of course, is an obvious case, but Bacon's painting is sui generis, and though Swift admired him greatly, he never worked on Bacon's scale or took the technical risks he did. Bacon might be an inspiring force, but his style was inimitable and afforded no direct model to anybody. Auerbach was another artist whom Swift knew and admired and featured in X magazine when Auerbach was still little known, but his glutinously heavy paint and very individual mentality — half central European, half Londoner — were not attributes Swift could or would have imitated. I believe that the real influence behind his new style was Soutine who was being rediscovered about this time both in England and America. There is no doubt at all that Swift admired him, and in fact Soutine became something of a cult in his circle (I believe personally that Bacon himself felt his influence for a while). He was certainly an influence on Auerbach, as Robert Hughes's book on him brings out.
These portraits then, even with all their faults and occasional overstatements, are remarkable of their kind, and how much more vital and personal they are than the tight, mannered, dully coloured and dully painted portraits by Graham Sutherland about which at least half the London intelligentsia were so enthusiastic at the time. They are also at the furthest remove from the accomplished but meagerly painted portraits of William Coldstream, one of the creators of the 'Slade School Style', with its tight drawing and paint no thicker than a razor blade. They are more interesting and individual than those of Rodrigo Moynihan, a better painter then either Sutherland or Coldstream, but at heart equally conventional. Yet they were seen by only a handful of people, and in some cases were even lucky to have survived. The Kavanagh portrait... The poet's big, hulking, slightly shapeless body leans angularly towards the viewer, while his face is ridged and furrowed into what verges on caricature, yet remains a very good likeness, a psychological likeness as much as a physical one. Only a man with a keen literary sensibility could have painted it, a man who could get inside his sitters psychologically. George Barker seated with his hands joined on his knees seems curiously inscrutable, almost oriental, while David Wright is massive, shock-headed and slightly teddy bearish. But Swift could also paint women well, as is shown by the various heads, almost classical in their clean, simple contours, of his wife Oonagh, the fine almost full-length portrait of Claire McAllister, and one moving picture of an old woman who I am told, was his grandmother and seems to have hated it.
It is easy to regret that Swift did not paint more portraits, but it is unlikely he would have wanted to. His high-mindedness would never have allowed him to be a professional portraitist, while his temperamental tendency to paint only those whom he knew well would have ruled out a larger clientele. Looking back, we should be glad that he was never trapped into such a career: Edward McGuire, one of the most gifted Irish painters of his generation, was caught up in the toils of professional portraiture, with results which undermined his entire peace of mind and perhaps, ultimately his health.
Underlying both early and middle-period Swift — in fact, most of his output apart from the sun-soaked, serene works of his last years — there is a basic disquiet, a quality which is obvious to the most superficial observer. Fashionable psycho-babble will look straight-away for private sources, not to say neurosis, but what we are dealing with is a metaphysic not a mere psychic knot. From the very first, there is a shadowed, and shadowy, essence in his work, and the figures and objects are often ringed with a kind of penumbral quality, almost a halo in reverse. In a sense this can be read as a kind of modern-equivalent to chiaroscuro, using the word in a deeper sense, not as a mere technical device for making a figure or still-life object stand out more... In an article he wrote about Caravaggio's work, published in the magazine Nimbus, Swift spoke of the impact the great Baroque realist's pictures made on him, especially those in the church of Santo Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. Caravaggio, of course, was just coming into fashion intellectually about the time, but Swift's discovery was a personal one which seems to have come as a virtual revelation. He saw and understood the power of Caravaggio's rhetoric and his sense of gesture and drama on a grand, heroic scale, but equally he was impressed with his attention to detail, including quite ordinary objects and things: "It is the fact that no detail is unworthy of his love that affects us deeply, in painting the gesture in full rhetorical flower he is at the same time in love with the very simple existence of the object apart from its significance in action".
Plainly it was a potent lesson to him that accurate, almost descriptive detail could enhance emotional intensity, just as in moments of stress or exhilaration, quite ordinary familiar objects are seen by us with almost abnormal clarity and become virtually symbols of our emotional state at the time. This goes a long way towards explaining the almost unnatural clarity of Swift's early style...
It should be remembered, however, that he was not only a painter of suburban bohemia, he was also a painter of nature. Swift's first exhibition contained flower pieces, close-ups of foliage (faintly Sutherlandish by the way), birds and plants, and all his life he painted landscapes. His last period, in fact, is little else, an almost rapturous reaction to the fertility of the sunlit country he saw around him... Both in Ireland and England he painted out of doors... The landscapes are very rarely panoramic; in fact, the foreground tends often to shut out any views in depth, and the viewer finds himself brought up sharp against a wall of rather somber greens...
The third period of course belongs to Portugal... There were prophecies in his early work the he would settle in a Mediterranean country — one of the pictures shown in the Waddington Gallery was entitled Almond Tree in Flower. Perhaps it would be over romantic, or over simple, to say that it was in part a flight from foggy London to southern sun...Perhaps, too, after the nervous energy expended on editing X, he needed a new air, new surroundings, even a new lifestyle. By that time, in any case, Soho was well past its peak and swingin’ London was under way... Pop Art was taking over... it is difficult to see him having much in common with the generation of Hockney and Caulfield and Peter Blake. His generation had been a private, rather introverted one... He was almost chauvinistically and romantically European... The painting he did of Baudelaire’s ‘presence’— for lack of a choicer word — in his London studio, show his intellectual allegiances, and are a strange balance of imaginative eeriness with mater-of-fact description; the accurately rendered studio clutter in fact is oddly reminiscent of the ‘Kitchen Sink School’, much discussed about that time by John Berger and others. Yet the poet’s imago seems almost wistfully at home there, and it is a fairly safe assumption that Swift had in mind the very similar bohemian studios which Baudelaire had frequented in Paris a century before. In a sense, he can be taken as a male version of the painter’s muse, as well as a mingled exhortation and warning...
My overall impression is that Swift's art was a very personal and private matter, usually carried on behind closed doors. In Portugal, I am told, he usually went alone to his studio and remained alone there until he emerged for meals, rest or recreation...
There remains Swift the critic, an aspect of him which may, on the face of it, belong in another context than this essay, yet it is difficult to ignore. 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. Other articles by Brian Fallon Include: 'The fall and rise of Patrick Swift', The Irish Times, 11 June 1992 (see below); 'The legacy of Patrick Swift', The Irish Times, Dec 2, 1993 (see below)
Note: Brian Fallon was instrumental in IMMA (Fallon was a founder board member) putting on Swift’s retrospective in 1993. During the 1980s he frequently called for exhibitions to be held of both Edward McGuire and Patrick Swift. Writing in The Irish Times (Situation Vacated, Private view, The Irish Times, Feb 20, 1991): 'With the Edward McGuire retrospective exhibition due this year in the RHA Gallagher Gallery, the talk of a possible Patrick Swift memorial show gains extra topicality….I have never seen a large Swift exhibition — not too many people still around have, I should imagine. But he was undeniably a painter with a style of his own, as well as playing a central role in the Dublin and Soho bohemia of the time. Such an exhibition is long overdue.'
IMMA 1993 Retrospective Catalogue
Patrick Swift, by Aidan Dunne
In his introduction to the catalogue of an exhibition of work by Barrie Cooke at The Hague's Gemeentemuseum in 1992, the then director Rudi Fuchs discerned a kind of alternative tradition of modern painting, a tradition of outsiders, within which he included Cooke. He listed off several others: Kokoschka, Soutine, Rouault, Yeats, Asger Jorn, Eugene Leroy, Per Kirkeby.
What the work of these various individuals share is a disinclination or inability "to surrender to" the lure of "pure painting". They have not, that is to say, embarked on the road to abstraction opened up by Cézanne, the "classical consequences" of Cézanne's art. They are observers, reporters, "experiential" painters who stand apart from the central Modernist enterprise.
A moment's thought will furnish many more contenders for this particular Salon des Refusés. For it is a fact that, while the advent of abstraction is the most salient fact about painting in the 20th century, vast numbers of estimable artists have, contemporaneously, pursued a diversity of representational strategies...
Undoubtedly Patrick Swift lines up with Fuchs's outsiders in his passionate attachment to providing descriptions of the world...
His own portraits, and he was an outstanding portrait painter, have a great deal in common with that distinctive Kokoschka directness whereby the painter is indifferent to awkwardness that might arise in the image because that's the way it is. And the most important consideration is a Hemingwayesque imperative to tell is like it is...
To say that much, however, provides nothing like a full account of Swift's scope or interests. As a painter, Kokoschka has a restless, omnivorous eye. He's an optical predator who must keep moving, a shark. Each sitter is a new personality to be consumed. He snaps up whole people and whole cities, always new people and new cities, all the time.
Swift, by contrast, has a side to his character that is ruminative, even obsessive, and he is, like many 20th century painters, addicted to the series. He'll worry about a single face, a single view, over and over again, going beyond immediate description in two respects. He'll enter into a structural analysis of what is in front of him, and he'll address the mechanics of its representation. If fact, more than once throughout his career you'll see him take a purposeful stroll some way down Cézanne's road of painterly "purity", and sometimes he seems to go even further along the road, seems to arrive at some specific destination.
Does this contradict his antipathy towards abstraction? Perhaps that's the wrong question to ask. Perhaps we shouldn't, at this stage, too meekly accept the notion of the mutual exclusivity of figuration and abstraction. Lars Nitve, a curator... remarked during the course of an interview that he is always drawn to those segments of an artist's oeuvre that go against the grain.
You could, he said, always find it if you looked, the works that were in apparent contradiction to the, again apparent, trend, but that were, puzzlingly from the point of view of the academic who sorts artists into schools and categories, made without any acknowledgement of contradiction...
Swift's work, though it always finds its way back to the representational mainstream, frequently allows elements that lead potentially in radically different directions.
Art in Europe after the Second World War was dominated by abstraction, whether geometric abstraction or, especially in the decade immediately following the war, informal, organic abstraction. This was still the case when Swift began exhibiting in Dublin... and it largely accounts for the rueful, even aggrieved tone of his essay, "Official Art and the Modern Painter"... A barbed meditation on the problematic relationship between the individual artist and the cultural establishment, it was in all likelihood prompted by reports of Documenta II at Kassel that year, the painting section of which concentrated on non-figurative work, and perhaps by the touring exhibition, New American Painting, from New York's Museum of Modern Art, which was seen in London that year...
Writing in X, Swift also expressed concern about the perceived shift of focus from Paris to New York. We've seen all this before, he suggests, and it means very little. All that is proclaimed as new, was invented and explored before 1920. In many respects he was quite right, but the avant garde race was by then well under way.
The 1950s were a time of exceptional dynamism in British art, characterised by what Bryan Robertson has called "a sudden expansion of awareness", a great "making up for lost time": that is, of course, the lost time of the Second World War. Swift was a perpetually restless artist, but there is a consistency of approach in his work, and to the extent that one can speak of him as employing a style, it was one formed in the crucible of the 1950s in London, as various movements vied for pre-eminence. His own personal style, reduced (unfairly) to the sum of its constituent influences, might be best described as a compound of Kokoschka, Cézanne and Bomberg: Kokoschka's attack, Cézanne's analysis and Bomberg's tactility.
He clearly possessed an ability to absorb and understand ideas in art, but when he moved to London in 1953, he entered a complex artistic scene in which his own position was practically predetermined. From the mainstream and thoroughly competent academicism of his early work he moved into a meticulous though strongly subjective realism close to that of his friend Lucian Freud. Of Irish painters, he admired Nano Reid...
While the issue is open, and chiefly of academic interest, it is tempting, in the light of his and Freud's subsequent development, to see Freud's influence on Swift as being more significant than his on Freud. This is not to disparage his achievements of the early 1950s, when he produced many portraits, figure paintings and still lifes, usually charged with an atmosphere of wistful melancholy, that are really exceptional by any standard, but to suggest that these pictures represented just once facet of a complex, sophisticated artistic personality.
His work of this time was certainly instrumental in shaping the mature style of the portrait painter Edward McGuire, as Anthony Cronin, who knew both, and the painter's widow, Sally McGuire, have acknowledged, and as any number of his paintings from the early 1950s demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt.
When he voices his disappointment, his unease about the course of art practice, he is in part reiterating a long-standing, intermittent rivalry between figurative and non-figurative art. More than this, perhaps, he is echoing the deep seated British antipathy to the frightening flexibility of Post-Impressionism...
Abstraction in British art had a similar genesis to abstraction in Ireland, that is as an import from Europe (if we ignore, for a moment, Celtic art)... And in a curious way, Swift's work came to embody, in its development, the ambivalence and contradictions of the tensions and play between figuration and abstraction, modernism and regionality.
In Britain, the division between abstraction and figuration, though often emphatically and passionately delineated, was in reality less clear-cut than it might appear at first glance...
The 1950s saw the energetic resumption of interest in various strands of both figurative and abstract art in Britain. But it wasn't just a question of picking up where things had left off. The mood was radically changed...
It is hardly surprising that he and other figurative artists felt that the rug was being pulled from under their feet. But that is not the whole picture.
Nicolas de Staël, who died in 1955, unflinchingly combined abstract methodology with figurative subjects, and his attractive, vibrantly coloured paintings were enthusiastically received in England. As was that of the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti, a major retrospective of whose work was held in London in 1955... Giacometti was during these years a hugely popular and influential figure whose spindly figures embodied, like Bacon's paintings, existentialist philosophy and the post-war gloom and uncertainty about the human subject, and it seems likely that he influenced the development of Swift's work.
It is not so much the sculptures, however, but the paintings, which cumulatively hedged in isolated figures or heads with a dense linear scaffolding, that made an impact on Swift. Giacometti worked obsessively with the same few sitters all the time. They were invariably people close to him. There is an echo in this procedure of Freud's attitude to his subjects, and it holds true of Swift as well.
In the light of his own work and background, there is a logic to his championing the work of David Bomberg, then an unjustly neglected painter whose career extended back to Vorticism. Though he never consistently heaped on the pigment in the way that became the trademark of Bomberg and his students, particularly Auerbach, Swift was certainly influenced...
Those painters associated with Bomberg had, with a certain justification, an embattled, defensive attitude to the rest of the art world. Swift aligned himself with them in the pages of X. Their work was not a million miles removed from that of many other socially-aware painters, a collective trend that culminated in the Kitchen Sink School, a visual equivalent of literature's Angry Young Men. Kitchen Sink realists like John Bratby made rough hewn images of workaday, deglamourised subjects. In many of Swift's studio still lifes of the time, a similar concentration on and celebration of the mundane is apparent...
He made, at virtually every stage of his career, many paintings of trees. For much of the time the trees are part and parcel of some naturalistic scene, like those, for example, seen from the window of his studio in London. But many paintings zoom in on the motif itself, delighting in the hectic rhythms established by the orderly but profuse curvilinear sweep of the branches. Even earlier studies of back gardens reveal him to be drawn to the abstract qualities of tangled stems and foliage.
But when he gets into his stride in the London tree paintings, we can see not only the influence of Giacometti's spidery line, but also unmistakable echoes of Mondrian's remarkable, sustained deconstruction of the image of a single tree which, with one or two other fixed motifs, were subjected to a withering geometric analysis, and carried his art from involvement in several naturalistic styles to the most rigorous abstraction...
Swift, who admitted to respect, perhaps even admiration for Mondrian, did not subscribe to the idea of inexorable, linear progress towards formal abstraction...
...his approach to Cézanne, the artist of greatest relevance to his work after he moved to Portugal, is close to Coldstream's: rewind the film to some moment before Braque and Picasso reach the point of no return and devise an alternative line of development. Similarly, he followed Mondrian's analytical instinct, but he wanted to retain it within an expressive, representational framework, stopping short of treating the underlying geometric structures and processes, remaining committed to the object itself. It seems fair to say that his abiding belief in the descriptive and expressive possibilities of painting never wavered...
The catalogue of his work suggests that there followed a hiatus on his output as a painter. The merest acquaintance with the range of his activities in Portugal suggests why this is so and marks him out as a man of exceptional energy and determination. However, his painterly energies had by no means been spent and when his position in Portugal was consolidated, he returned to his old levels of productivity. He had though, like Cézanne, removed himself from the art world per se. Again, it was not a unique resort among figurative painters of the day...
The London painters Swift had left behind generally stayed the course, building a public for themselves and, slow burners all, eventually achieving some sort of breakthrough in the 1980s, as the climate became more receptive to expressionism, figuration and painting generally. But, despite his exhibitions in Portugal, or appearances in group shows in Ireland, Swift interacted only sporadically with the art world...
But in the Portuguese work, we find him endlessly, and, it must be said, often inconclusively refighting the same old battles of allegiance...
These things, however, are constants: his enduring interest in describing the world around him, people, things, landscape, his structural curiosity as he rehearses the same subjects, whether Monte Gordo, the fig tree or George Venn's blocky head, and his exploration of physical gesture. His world is rural, even bucolic, and his subject matter is his world...
He likes sketchy first impressions. And sometimes the gruffness, the anti-elegance, the urgency combine to make images that are effective, telling and eloquent... He clearly feels the need to push each picture to its limit, but there is an inconclusiveness to a great deal of the later work.
Much the same thing could be said of Cézanne, who was no natural. He struggled desperately with the mechanics of picture-making and it is no exaggeration to say that his greatness lies in the measure of his failure to be an academician. Such "failures" can open up areas of exploration, can ask awkward questions of official art.
There is another kind of outsider with which Swift might usefully be identified, and that is the breed of Irish painter who, having gone and worked in France, finds him or her self cut adrift from Ireland, Britain and even France itself. Mainie Jellett, Nathaniel Hone the Younger and Roderic O'Conor are just such awkward customers... O'Conor in exile, a bristling presence closely in touch with developments in the art world, working steadily but rarely exhibiting, remote and unaccommodating. There are obvious parallels with Swift, who seems always to have wanted nothing more than to be allowed to be himself.
— Aidan Dunne, IMMA Patrick Swift (1927-83) Retrospective Catalogue, 1993
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
Swift was an extremely independent personality – so much so, in fact, that he opted out of the art world in his thirties.
— Brian Fallon, The fall and rise of Patrick Swift, The Irish Times, June 11, 1992 (see below)
No painter here since the Literary Revival has had a more central role in cultural life... He was a catalyst, an inspirer, a go-between creating links between painters and literary men, a propagandist for some major talents (including Francis Bacon) which fashion had not yet caught up with... There can be few Irishmen of his epoch, whether poets or painters or novelists, who are of such biographical interest and who touched their age at so many key points.
— Brian Fallon, The legacy of Patrick Swift, The Irish Times, Dec 2 1993 (see below)
A man who made his paintings talk... essentially Swift is not only an Irish painter but a European one... He may well be one of the greatest of Irish painters. When the dust has settled and the critics have had their say, the paintings will speak for themselves.
Until now most people in Ireland may have been unaware that Patrick Swift was still producing work of outstanding quality right up to the time of his death in Portugal in 1983. Indeed, many people may not have heard of him at all. Since his successful exhibition in the Victor Waddington Gallery in Dublin in 1952, he avoided the limelight... He moved from Dublin to London in the early 1950s and from there to Algarve, in Portugal, where he made his home for over 20 years.
He painted the people, the landscape and the trees in Portugal with an intensity and energy which communicates itself directly from the canvas. The impact is enormous. Great gnarled roots and branches in heavy impasto; greens, yellows and ochres, the colours of the seasons in the Portuguese landscape; figures emerge from twisted tree trunks, half hidden in the branches; men, earth and trees become part of an electrifying energy field. These paintings hold you and address you in a language so intimate and disturbingly personal that even if you don't know much about art you are aware you have been moved at a visceral level...
— Marion McDonald, Sunday Business Post, Feb 20 1994
The Irish Times
Sir, — Encouraged by the fact that Patrick Swift wrote an admiring article on Nano Reid, one artist in praise of another, which is published in the excellent book PS of course - Patrick Swift (Gandon Books), I dare to make a reciprocal gesture on Swift himself.
His exhibition at the Royal Hospital quite simply bowled me over, and I realised at once that I was looking at pictures by probably the most formidable Irish artist of this century — perhaps including Jack Yeats and his father. The early pictures, when Swift was close to Lucian Freud, show an influence from Freud, or possibly on Freud, and are, in his portraits, just as compelling as those of Freud.
At least one of the tree pictures shown in the exhibition reminds me of the early Miró farm pictures in their very precise and representational handling. Later, when Swift and his wife Oonagh went with their children to live in Portugal, he still painted trees, palms, and scrub with a broader brush technique of tremendous strength and with immediacy of invention. His drawings, too, are those of a master.
The dozen or so late portraits shown at Kilmainham or in the Gandon book have even more impact than the later Freud portraits have. The one of his mother and father, a huge picture showing them in a Connemara landscape, is a masterpiece; so are those of his mother alone and of Patrick Kavanagh. Some of the strongest contemporary portraits I have ever seen.
P.S.'s death from a brain tumour in Portugal, at the age of only 56, was a major tragedy. This is an exhibition not to be missed... Declan McGonagle, the director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, is indeed to be congratulated on giving us all a chance to see such work. — Yours etc.
— Derek Hill in a letter to the The Irish Times, 24 January 1994
The lost hope of Irish art ... Belated recognition for Patrick Swift, a painter born out of his time.
— Aidan Dunne, The Sunday Tribune, Nov 28, 1993 (see below)
...his ability to communicate certain truths on what one senses to be a deeply spiritual level. It is perhaps this quality in his work which links Swift with the world of poetry and poets. Apart from close family members, poets were almost exclusively subjects of his portraits; the series of poet portraits shown at IMMA [1993 Retrospective] are quite exceptional by any standards and must place him among the very best Irish painters of the twentieth century.
— Wanda Ryan Smolin, Irish Arts Review, 1994
Almost all are of landscape subjects, or at least outdoor ones. Trees shimmer in the fierce white light, houses or cottages huddle into their fields or gardens, there is an abundant feeling of fertility and also of serenity. Figures are rare, though the human presence is implicit throughout. They have a faint flavour of Cézanne’s late watercolours, but they are bigger and also less formalised, looser and more lyrical. Taken as a sequence they represent one of the peaks of watercolour painting over the last forty years; certainly no Irish painter has done better.
— Brian Fallon on a series of late watercolours by Swift, from his essay 'Patrick Swift and Irish Art', reproduced in Patrick Swift: An Irish Painter in Portugal, Gandon Editions, 2001
He did not allow himself to simply accept the nascent effervescence of post-war English art, although he did live in its midst and analysed it and commented upon it... He maintained both a love of the figurative that he was never to relinquish, and a lack of interest in, and even an aversion to abstraction, geometric or otherwise.... Among his various influences we feel the presence of Giacometti and his infinite veils of grey, obsessively covering and uncovering a tortured and secret face… These affinities... were not enough to deflect him from his intuitive self. They constituted less a deliberate career focus and more a faith in an inner order, that manifested itself in his painting and writing. The artist distanced himself from fashion in order to grasp the permanent element which he believed he must seek in the world of painting, not just in that of his own day, but in that of all time, and in the relationship between art, reality and its interpretation.
— Fernando De Azvedo (painter and President of Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes, Lisbon) writing in Patrick Swift: An Irish Painter in Portugal, Gandon Editions, 2001
Although highly acclaimed in critical and artistic circles, the work of the Irish painter Patrick Swift has rarely been publicly exhibited... The vogue at the end of the 50s for abstract painting was not to his taste, nor could he work with academic realism. He sought an expression of life and human creativity which was meaningful and accessible, yet intensely personal, and inspired by emotion, by landscape. It seemed Ireland and England restricted him. Swift emigrated to Portugal in 1962. He later set up a pottery in the Algarve, whose part in the revival of the regional craft has been recognised. Here Swift made a huge contribution to the popularisation of the Algarve, and to the recognition of the beauty of Portugal's landscape, history and culture... These are some of his most resonant works, where he has found his voice, and in the invigorating new climate the change in his painting was towards an enhanced sensuous warmth, a sense of the integrity of light and a feeling of the integration with nature, of painter and viewer.
— Richard Morphet (Keeper, Tate Britain, from 1986 until 1998), in his introduction to the Patrick Swift exhibition at the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery in Cork, 2001
An Introductory Note.
By John Ryan
(Envoy, A Review of Literature and Art, July 1951)
This introduction is the last of a series which attempted to evaluate the position of contemporary painting in Ireland. The fact that all the artists included were of the younger generation is not so surprising when we consider that no painting of any worth (excepting that of Yeats) was produced in this country prior to the last war. Patrick Swift, whose work is here reproduced, is our youngest and, many will agree, our most promising professional painter.
Two years ago he had never exhibited a painting and was virtually unknown. His first contact with the public was established when the Irish Exhibition of Living Art accepted four of his paintings for their annual show last summer. The reaction to his work was spontaneous and enthusiastic. This, therefore, would seem to be the time to congratulate him and wish him the success that his work undoubtedly merits — at the start of his career, rather than when his struggle is over and patronage is of the sort that Johnson so indignantly flung back in the face of Lord Chesterfield.
The reproductions give an inadequate impression of the paintings themselves but should serve as a key to the composition and as an indication of the artist's ability to draw with strength and feeling. His subject matter is uncomplicated and might be classified under the headings of portraits and plants. To each he gives the same intensity of observation. No clichés are employed to simplify his task and no tricks are superimposed to foster an illusion of originality. Like every good artist, his originality derives from the intensity of his own vision and the honesty with which he expresses it. Academicians and abstractionists will equally deplore him, and probably for the same reasons. He has rejected the debased technique of the one and the dogmas of the other. He paints what he sees.
The appearance of Swift on the Irish scene is refreshing and should stimulate his contemporaries and those of us who were beginning to despair of anything new happening in his particular field. The minor revolution which took place in Irish painting (circa 1945) and the consequent improvement in public taste (for which we must thank Mr. Victor Waddington), did a great deal to further the cause of creativity in art. It is now no longer considered a public effrontery not to paint muddy pastiche of the Orpen-Lavery School. Yet this "revolution" has fallen somewhat short of completion (resembling to that extent the stunted growth of our political one) and might easily back-slide into the very complacency from which it rebelled. The fault with our younger painters is that they tend to rely too heavily on the techniques, once valid no doubt, which they acquired in their early years and which gave to their work at the time, the quality upon which their reputations were subsequently built. Nothing leads to imaginative sterility so quickly as this sort of sloth. It is, therefore, of importance to note that Swift's paintings, though strikingly original, are quite free of those charming little tricks, which when overworked, can so easily develop into the monsters of facile repetition which mar so much of what might have been worth while work.
Cyril Connolly once remarked that "Art is man's noblest attempt to preserve Imagination from Time." Even at this early, perhaps formative, stage in his life, the paintings of Patrick Swift strongly suggest the presence of that all-important durability.
— 'Patrick Swift', by John Ryan, Envoy, A Review of Literature and Art, July 1951, vol 5/20
The Irish Times
AN IRISHMAN'S DIARY
In the self-portrait which is included in his one-man show at the Waddington Galleries, Patrick Swift has painted himself holding a dead woodcock. People who know the painter have described this as a double self-portrait; for the most striking physical qualities of Swift are his bird-like head and face.
His close-textured brown hair sits on his head like a cap of feathers; his nose is long, prominent and beaky; his eyes are a greenish hazel, like a seagull's, and are as alert as a watching gull's, but without the predatory cruelty. The whole physical impact of Swift is of a man who is poised and elusive.
The bird image keeps recurring as one assesses Swift's personality. It is suggested even in his speech. Start him talking on a subject and there will be a few quick breathless sentences, the words tumbling over each other, but concisely phrased. Then he is off on another beat, as apparently purposeless as a swallow after flies, and very often in effect as devastating.
People who know him well say that his elusiveness is the unconscious protective device of a spoiled romantic. Swift himself denies that he is, or ever was, a romantic. "There is only room for one romantic in Irish art", he says, "and there is only one genuine romantic in Irish art — Jack Yeats."
Although Swift is now only 25 his exhibition has attracted an unusual amount of attention for the first one-man show of a painter so young. He admits to painting whenever he could from childhood onwards; he attended night classes at the National College of Art while still a schoolboy, but his formal education in art has been scanty. Not so his views. He puts Pablo Picasso on a pedestal as "one of the very great painters of all time", but adds at once: " No painter has had so much disastrous influence on his imitators." He sees an inevitable swing in modern art from surrealism to naturalism, but adds at once: "It must be a purely visual and personal naturalism without the formulae of the academics."
His favourite among modern painters is Giacometti, with whom he worked in Paris; but he adds again: "I found it impossible to work in Paris or London — Dublin is the only place where I can produce."
I asked if his theories on non-academic naturalism gave his pictures the cold autumnal quality that I felt in them. He swooped to the counter-attack at once and said that there was plenty of warmth in his work for anybody who took the trouble to look. Then, swooping in a different direction, he said: "What you call coldness — that's Dublin."
Whether it is Dublin or not, I have a feeling that one day what I call coldness will thaw, and that, if the young man who is already significant in the new generation of Irish painters comes to terms with the romanticism from which he shies at present, a painter of major importance will emerge.
— QUIDNUNC (Seamus Kelly), The Irish Times, Oct 11, 1952
YOUNG ARTIST OF PROMISE
The Irish Times, Oct 3, 1952
Patrick Swift, whose first one-man show opened yesterday in the Victor Waddington Galleries, Dublin, is an interesting young Irish painter of considerable promise.
In general tendency realistic, and primarily concerned with the accurate description of form even at the expense of colour and texture, Patrick Swift at first glance might almost be taken for an academic painter of portraits, still life studies and the sort of paintings of dead game which have been fashionable at various stages of the world's history. When you examine the pictures more closely, however, you become aware of a brooding, oppressive atmosphere hanging over them.
Details are picked out in sharp relief, as they might under the relentless floodlight of a prison interrogation. The dead birds, the twisted tendrils of the plants, the puzzled, frightened faces of his sitters, all appear to have been subjected to this merciless scrutiny, which unearths from them, not a story, nor a decorative pattern, nor even a mood, but some sort of tension which is the property of their existence.
The use of muted colours — so quiet at times that the paintings could almost be called monochromes; the elimination of any attempt to reproduce effects of light and shade, beyond the minimum of shading necessary to clarify the shapes; and the smooth, flat paint all contribute towards the atmosphere of heightened realism which, though reminiscent at times of Lucian Freud, is intensely personal and strangely disturbing.
The exhibition continues until October 13th.
— G.H.G., The Irish Times, Oct 3, 1952
Time Magazine, 1952
Ireland is famous for its politics, barley whisky and angry authors, but it rarely has much to cheer about in the way of painters. A fortnight ago in Dublin, Irish critics got a look at the work of a touseled young (25) man named Paddy Swift and tossed their caps in the air. Paddy's 30 canvases are as grey and gloomy as Dublin itself—harshly realistic paintings of dead birds and rabbits, frightened-looking girls and twisted potted plants. Their fascination is in the merciless, sharply etched details, as oppressive and inquiring as a back-room third degree. Dublin Understands. Wrote Critic Tony Gray in the Irish Times: Swift "unearths [from his subjects] not a story, nor a decorative pattern, nor even a mood, but some sort of tension which is a property of their existence." Said the Irish Press: "An almost embarrassing candor... Here is a painter who seems to have gone back to the older tradition and to have given the most searching consideration to the composition of his painting." Dublin, which likes authors who write with a shillelagh, understood an artist who painted with one. The Word Is Tension. By 1950, Paddy was in Paris, living in a cheap Left Bank hotel and growing an existentialist beard. He had tackled Paris with £25 in his pockets, but that was soon gone, and he scrabbled a living doing commission portraits of American G.I.s and tourists. "No picture survived this period," he says. "I sold them all to buy food and drink." Nights, he went to the galleries, and there he found what he wanted to do. He liked such old French masters as the 17th century's Nicolas Poussin, the 19th century's Eugene Delacroix, such moderns as Switzerland's Alberto Giacometti and Britain's Francis Bacon. The much-admired decorative style of the Matisses is not for Paddy Swift. "Art," he thinks, "is obviously capable of expressing something more closely related to life than these elegant designs." His main idea is to suggest the tensions he finds in life. "I believe when you bring, say, a plant into a room, everything in that room changes in relation to it. This tension—tension is the only word for it—can be painted."
— Time Magazine, 1952
His work is characterised by an almost classical coldness and reserve, particularly in its colour; an uncompromising clarity of vision which eschews the accidental or the obvious or the sentimental...
— The Dublin Magazine, 1951 IELA Exhibition
...show his power to convey the full impact of the object, as though the spectator were experiencing it for the first time. This curious clarity is a function of restrained, I might even say, puritanical palette and of cold light, uniformly diffused.
— The Dublin Magazine, 1952 Waddington Exhibition
Patrick Swift, whose brooding, precise oil paintings are well known, is showing five delicately-drawn watercolours. Olive Trees, in particular, is a beautiful piece of work, showing keen observation and a rare ability to sort out the complexities of vegetation.
— G.H.G (Tony Gray), The Irish Times, Nov 1954; reviewing a Victor Waddington Galleries, Dublin, Exhibition: Drawings, watercolours, gouache, ceramics
BY HIS FRIENDS
The Dublin Years
I first met Paddy Swift in O’Dwyer’s off Lesson Street... He was employed in some capacity in the Gas Company, but he never mentioned the nature of his duties, nor did I ever enquire. He had no doubt that he was a painter... Anything else was a temporary necessity or inconvenience, boring perhaps, or, in some lights, amusing. In fact the first thing you became aware of about him was the strength and certainty of his vocation. He even had a sketch book with him, though I never remember him carrying one again...
He was the first painter I had ever met, though I had seen one or two of those who went to such places — Harry Kernoff or Seán O'Sullivan — around the bars. It was a great relief to meet an artist who was not an aspirant poet. One saw things in a clearer light; and, of course, to meet Swift was something special. It seems to me now that even at that first meeting we discovered a certain consanguinity of purpose, a shared view of what art was about, and that I felt as one always did with him — that by having a certain view of art you had already attained something and escaped from something... To feel this was important to me at the time and it remained important during the years I knew him, though perhaps it was more so at the beginning than afterwards, for I knew nobody else then who had quite this vocational certainty.
Memory telescopes. I do not remember by what stages our acquaintance grew and the Swift of that evening seems to me to be the Swift of later, in appearance, in attitude and in manner, though probably he was not. Of course he probably already had that aquiline look and those piercing eyes. He probably gave the same impression of deftness and precision in gesture and movement, and may have been just as eloquent. But the immense self-assurance of later on, the sometimes cruel centrality of his grasp of character, the way of assuming that everything he told you confirmed a sort of shared joke about the world, did he already have those? I somehow doubt it...
What we thought about art was, more or less, that it should be truthful and exact... Swift's attitude to painting was that it should be a truthful recapitulation of the visible world and psychologically truthful as well...
Another transition and still no attempt at chronology: to Hatch Street, to the ground-floor and basement flat which John Ryan had spent the early months of his marriage. I have the front room, almost bare of furniture except for the large portrait of myself by Swift over the mantelpiece and some books. The other room on the hall floor is Paddy's studio. John Beckett and Vera have a room downstairs. We all, supposedly, pay rent to Claire, who deals with John.
In the morning the sun comes through the high white window of my room, but before I am up I can hear Paddy, who is already at his easel, through the folding doors which divide the two rooms.
Lucian Freud, who is staying in Dublin, comes to paint for some weeks also...
One evening, Paddy leafs through a book of MacNeice's which I have. Then he gestures to a Soul for Sale which is on the mantelpiece. 'There seems to me to be more actual poetry in the Kavanagh', he says. He is right. Whatever the mysterious essence we call poetry is, there is more of it in Kavanagh.
Why does one remember one thing more than another? We walk across Leeson Street and down Pembroke Street to meet Kavanagh in the Pembroke Lounge. We encounter him at the door and go in together. The pub is crowded. Swift surveys the scene. 'The dying and the lovers soon to part', he says, quoting Auden. Why has that remained, a fragment, when so much else is forgotten?...
I will leave things where others can take them up, some time in the early fifties. X and Westbourne Terrace are nearly a decade away. At the top of Parkway, just where Camden Town gives way to open spaces, occasional coppices and regency terraces of the park, is or was, a small row of three-storey houses in which we take a flat. This he quickly transforms into a studio by the simple expedient of throwing out the landlord’s carpet and much of his furniture... As things turn out he does not live there but with Oonagh in Hampstead, but he comes up to paint more or less every day; again, often before I am up. He has had a show in Waddington’s in Dublin, a big success, but he has moved to London. When, one day (which may have been later on), Lucian Freud asks me if he is going to show in the new London Waddington’s, I answer that I did not think so, that I do not think he is interested in exhibiting his paintings. We are both puzzled. If I was trying to write that kind of piece I would try and analyse Paddy’s attitude to success, so pure and ascetic from one aspect, but also so in love with a certain idea of it. In a way he does not need to be a success, he has always been one, and people sense this about him immediately...
In Camden Town he is painting the tree which is just outside the window. It takes him, as everything did, a long time to paint. It is early summer. The tree is old but its leaves are green. This is a long time ago.
— Anthony Cronin, Gandon Editions, 1993
Patrick Swift In His Time
Anthony Cronin(IMMA Retrospective Catalogue, 1993)
Patrick Swift may have been a night-time student in the College of Art when I first met him in the late forties, but I never thought of him as an art student. To me he was a painter; and already someone whose certainty of purpose was as remarkable as his talent. Of course he had a job, but it was understood that this was a temporary inconvenience; and within, I think, some months of our first meeting he had in fact given this up in order to do what he wanted to do most and did best.
Looking at his early work now I am amazed at the maturity and self-possession that was already evident in it. And there is not only a clear grasp of technique and purpose, but his principal subject matter has already been decided on.
He was never in any doubt that painting was a re-creation of what the painter saw: in his own case at least not what the painter had seen or could imagine, but what he was actually looking at during the act of painting. A faithfulness of this sort was part of the bargain, part of his contract with his art. In conversation he — we — associated this faithfulness, this "truth" which might be possible in painting with an equivalent truth or honesty to experience which might be possible in literature, even in poetry, generally speaking the least faithful and the most false of the arts...
But this truth of which we spoke had nothing to do with description... Description is usually illusionism of one sort or another, the quickness of the hand supposedly deceiving the eye. What was at stake was a faithful re-creation of the truth to the artist of the experience, in the painter's case the visual experience, the artist being admittedly only one witness, one accomplice during and after the fact.
Of course this faithfulness did not rule out expressionist overtones. The truth was doubtless subjective as well as objective. Swift's blues and greys were usually properties of what he was painting. They were also part of his vision of things, properties of his mind.
We felt then that time could only find its full expression through an art that was frugal, ascetic, puritanical even... In faraway Paris, Samuel Beckett felt the same thing, writing the trilogy that was to give asceticism, frugality, puritanism and the bitter humour that lies at the heart of the joke that is life, their full expression. Swift's avoidance of warm colours... was born in that time and afterwards harked back to it...
He had met Freud by 1949... My grasp of chronology is not always accurate, but certainly the acquaintance was well-developed by 1950 when we shared the ground-floor of a house in Hatch Street together. Lucian, who was staying in Ireland, used to come around in the mornings to paint, so that sometimes when I would surface around ten or eleven I would find them both at work in the studio next door...
Certainly the influence of Lucian was strong, as why should it not be?... But there is, it should be said, an inevitability in such conjunctions which is part of the zeitgeist for those who feel it intensely enough. The obscure psychological alchemy which brought Swift to the painter's art in the first place brought him also to the requisite acquaintance and the requisite influence.
There is in both painters an intensity which may at first not seem justified by the actual subject matter, a sense of life as always, even in its banalities, perhaps especially in those, verging on horror and partaking of tragedy, something which overtly surrealist painting often aims at and misses. There is the same unwavering regard for the object, an entelechy which has somehow come into existence in a manner that supersedes time and abrogates all space except the space in which it now stands. Doubtless such a painting as Interior in Paddington had a profound influence on Swift (though I see it is dated 1951 when he was already painting works whose manner would seem to have been affected by it... But beyond a certain point influence is really no more than an indication of possibility; and some of the differences were apparent to me even then. He is for example less concerned with surface and texture than Freud was at that point and less obsessional in his painting of it...
In the pages of X and in his writings generally, may be seen also the influence of Charles Baudelaire, which was profound. In what I believe to be his only imagined work, painted from the Nadar photograph to which I directed him, he has acknowledged this influence. Baudelaire stands in Swift's own studio, behind a table strewn with his brushes and jars, the workaday clutter of the space in which art is created. Swift was a literate, but not a literary painter. His judgement of literature was usually very sharp and accurate, though this sharpness is not reflected in some of what he wrote about it.
The influence of Cézanne was lifelong... Because his only show took place in Dublin in the 1950s, an impression was created in these parts that he had given up painting. For the decreasing number of those who knew or cared anything about him, he had somehow disappeared off the map. We live in a time when all activities take place in the shadow-land of media publicity... Swift of course went on painting and paying homage through his work to the trees and foliage of the natural world. His painting became not less austere or less ascetic but more affirmative. In the contemplation and re-creation of these woody, self-supporting stems and trunks with their abundant leafage he found a happiness which was not dependent on human response or the satisfaction of ambition.
— Anthony Cronin, IMMA Retrospective Catalogue, 1993
John Ryan (founder of Envoy magazine)
...He was a friend of a number of friends of mine and we were near enough contemporaries. Dublin tended towards being a more Bohemian town then than it is now. Yet there was no government patronage of the arts then at all. Two particular friends were the poets Anthony Cronin and John Jordan...
It was I who introduced Paddy (as we called him then) to another Paddy, namely Patrick Kavanagh — undoubtedly the most important poet since WB Yeats... Swift, in fact, made a decided impact on Kavanagh. It is hard to believe now that it was mainly a cultural impact and that he actually changed the older man's entire approach to poetry...
And all the time Swift was painting. Portraits, especially, came from his easel at an astonishing rate... his output was prodigious down the years. He was quite audacious in his approach to painting too. I remember him setting up an enormous canvas in the garden of Hatch Street in Dublin where his studio then was, and, without any further ado, painting a portrait of a girl without any preliminary sketches or without squaring off the canvas, without any preliminary work whatever. Yet the finished product looked well thought out, as if it were the result of mature judgement. I had at the time a 16mm movie camera, and panning the camera from the painting to the subject, to and fro, captured the scene on film. I used to show this film to the two Paddies (Swift and Kavanagh) and they could never get enough.
I made a number of these colour films including one of Kavanagh and Swift and Cronin ambling along on a summer's day by the banks of Dublin's Grand Canal.
— John Ryan, Gandon Editions, 1993
John Jordan (poet, critic and short story writer)
…the painter Patrick Swift, who died in the Algarve in Portugal in July 1983. It was on 20 July at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in County Monaghan that I heard the news from the novelist and former secretary of the Arts Council, Mervyn Wall, who had found it in The Irish Times. There were others present, but I doubt if any of them was as much affected as myself; after all, Patrick, had been in exile for well over twenty years, and his return visits were brief and infrequent. I myself had met him on only two of those visits, which involved a memorable but scarcely recountable trip to the Drogheda home of the painter Nano Reid (who died in 1982), whom he not alone admired immensely as an artist but loved as a person, though she was about twenty years older...
We first met when... with unwonted audacity and quite exceptional naïveté, I founded the Synge Street Literary Society and to the first meeting... there came some past pupils: Mr Anthony Hughes... the late John O'Donovan... and Patrick Swift... In the next four years or so he became involved in the texture of my life... I knew at the time that Patrick Swift painted, but at this stage, I must confess that I hardly took him seriously; if anything he struck me as being a literary man...
By 1950 he had abandoned his job in the Gas Company and moved into a room in a house in Lower Baggot Street, which once contained a modern art gallery called Contemporary Pictures. It was there he painted his first portrait of me which was reproduced in the magazine Envoy whose editor-in-chief was to become his brother-in-law. John Ryan also published an article Patrick Swift wrote on Nano Reid. Among others he was to paint at that time were the poet Patrick Kavanagh and the novelist-to-be, Julia O’Faolain. By 1951 Patrick Swift had moved into a flat in Hatch Street and it was there that he painted his second portrait of me. I do not know where the two portraits are now.
But it was not those vanished images of my youth I thought of during the next few days at Annaghmakerrig. Only of what seemed the enchanted world of my late teens, where the Master of the Revels, the tragic-comedian-in-chief, was Patrick Swift from Rialto, from Synge Street, from Baggot Street, from Hatch Street and after that, an Anglo-Portuguese world I was never to know. Perhaps I spoke too sentimentally about Patrick Swift to my fellow-guests at Annaghmakerrig: the night before I left, the writer Dermot Healy read to them a verse-letter I had addressed to Patrick Swift in 1948, and which I was foolhardy enough to include in a book published twenty-seven years later. I am so glad now that I did. Here is some of it:
Thespis’s children stick together
In sunlight and shadow and weather
When the proud rose must surely fall…
Yes, mine was a mime of lime scent and quiet heart
Yours one of cypresses and blood on the snow
Thirty-eight years ago, neither of us dreamed that the proud rose would waste away in the South of Portugal. I must one day go and see if near his grave in Porches in the Algarve there are cypresses.
— John Jordan (poet, critic and short story writer), Patrick Swift 1927-83, Gandon Editions, 1993
Patrick Swift - A Memoir
Martin Green(writer, editor and publisher)
...Anthony Cronin, fresh over from his adventures in France with Brendan Behan, was a newcomer to the circle, and it was shortly after meeting him that I first recall ever meeting Patrick Swift...
I find trying to adhere to any kind of chronological sequence in a memoir such as this, difficult and distracting, but it was in that basement flat that Patrick Kavanagh sheltered on and off for a while. And it is the mention of Kavanagh that brings back to me that infectious gaiety and generosity that is at the heart of my memory of Paddy Swift... It was he, together with Tony Cronin, who initially put up the idea of bringing together Kavanagh's poems for the Collected Poems, for which the author finally thanked me ungrudgingly in his Introduction to that most arduous of tasks. For Paddy Swift, above all, had a profound belief in the value of poetry, and of the poet as a maker... In the world in which we all moved at that time, I used to be curious as to the detachment Paddy showed to the market place, at his indifference to the fashionable galleries where Freud and Bacon were the beckoning lights, along with Frank Auerbach; it was as if he'd taken Joyce's Stephen Daedalus to heart- that once the work is created, it is no longer anything to do with the artist, who simply stands aside and pares his nails.
Paddy Swift had a catalytic enthusiasm that ignited a response elsewhere. I remember being introduced by him to John McGahern, then a shy, red-faced young teacher in the East End of London. I read his first novel, which I recommended for publication but was overruled, and, on being asked by him who he should turn to, told him to go to Faber & Faber... It was he who brought to my attention the Charles Sisson version of Catullus, which I subsequently published, when I still worked as a publisher. It was he who helped to find a publisher for Brian Higgins, whose short and savage life at the hands of literary London began with the Swift's generous hospitality in that same basement flat in Westbourne Terrace. And it was here, in the midst of the chaos of family life with small children and impecunious friends, that Paddy undertook those portraits of poets that have yet to take their place in the artistic record of the times...
I am very grateful to Paddy and to Oonagh of course, for a period I spent with them in the Algarve, shortly after they had moved out there. I learnt things there about the nature of the richness of artistic isolation that have remained with me...
Paddy Swift was the most generous of men in the truest of all possible ways. He knew that all was a distraction that did not lend itself to the creation of what makes life tolerable on earth. He knew, as Paddy Kavanagh knew, how to 'Snatch out of time the passionate transitory'.
— Martin Green (writer, editor and publisher), Gandon Editions, 1993
Sitting for Swift
C.H. Sisson (poet, translator)
...when Paddy said he would do a drawing of me I managed to fit in a number of lunch-time visits to the studio. At first I went to his basement flat, where he started a pencil drawing. It left him ill-satisfied at the time and one day I arrived to find him with the paraphernalia of oils. The scene of action moved to an empty third-floor room at the other end of Westbourne Terrace which Paddy was then using as a point of vantage from which to paint the trees below. While he looked down on trees, poets came upstairs to him. Paddy had done his glowering and veridical, but slightly decorative, portrait of George Barker some time before; it looked down at one from under glass in the living-room of Paddy’s basement. In the upstairs studio where I sat, a rather bulbous David Wright was gradually being reduced to order on another canvas. Brian Higgins was under treatment, either then or shortly afterwards…I was not obliging in the time I gave but Paddy seemed to accommodate himself to anything. Indeed, I got the impression that, so long as he was painting, it did not matter what. In fact, it always turned out to be a tree or a poet — this secondary, and no doubt less satisfactory, subject-matter has since been eliminated, and not only, I imagine, because the supply ran out. It was as if to lie in the line of vision of that eye inevitably involved translation on to canvas. Paddy fussed about none of those things I imagined a painter who kept his reference to the external world would fuss about. He did not mind if the sitting was short, he did not mind if the times and so the light were different. He ignored the state of light, so far as I could make out, with his trees, for he started early and worked all day at them, except when a poet crossed his path. These variations were part of the nuance of reality. The finished picture would perhaps be one that captured enough of the nuance. On these matters I speculate ignorantly. The finished picture, on Paddy's account, had to be one that looked ordinary but proved in the end not to be so. I have not put it as he did. While he painted, Paddy talked about the stream of friends which flowed through his flat or whom he met in pubs. Although when painting Paddy appeared to be all eye, with the hand just doing the necessary, the conversation which ran in parallel with this performance showed a rare lucidity... It will of course be the painting that remains. I can testify that it has an unusual aptitude for remaining. One or two of these pictures have been before my eyes daily for years... What I have learned is that, after being looked at habitually for some time, most work goes soft at some point. It proves to have elements which in the end do not continue to justify themselves. I can testify that with Paddy's painting it is not so. It is possible not to begin to see a painting of his, properly speaking. What is not possible is to stop seeing it, once you have begun.
— CH Sisson, Gandon Editions, 1993
C.H. Sisson, On the Look-Out (a partial autobiography)
...when Patrick Swift painted my portrait... Paddy was going to do a pencil drawing. He did in fact do one, but it left him ill-satisfied at the time and one day I arrived to find the paraphernalia of oils... While he painted, Paddy talked about the stream of friends which flowed through his flat or whom he met in pubs. Hugh MacDiarmid had been there one morning; I regretted not having met him... John Heath-Stubbs at that time lived under a pavement round the corner, and made tea in a cavern too obscure for any but a half-blind man. It was and is unintelligible to me that so much learning can go with so little sight. One day I arrived to find his carapace beginning to take shape on another canvas, though it was still a little while before we met. For Paddy the human character exists, I suppose; at any rate when he had finished with them his sitters had betrayed themselves... Paddy hated great dollops of reading matter, as far as I could make out, but operated powerfully on a piece big enough to be brought within his line of vision at one time. I also judged that, but for a deep-seated instinct of generosity, Paddy would have had some talent for affairs. Decidedly this was not a man who had taken to painting through an incapacity for other things.
The world evoked by Patrick Swift's conversation was the natural antithesis of the one I inhabit. In it, people put the business of being poets or painters first and other things organized themselves round that. Paddy appeared to be able to manage this while holding himself equally responsible for his family. I greatly admired the economic nonchalance of this world...
— C.H. Sisson, On the Look-Out (a partial autobiography), Carcanet Press, 1989
The Bird Swift
John McGahern (writer)
...Through the youngest of the Swift's, Tony, I had come to know most of his family. In a small house in Carrick Terrace, which was suffused with his mother's extraordinary charm, I saw his drawings and paintings for the first time — I remember with particular vividness a small watercolour of a Rialto sweetshop — and it was there I was given Come Dance with Kitty Stobling to read in a typescript Jimmy Swift had made for Kavanagh at that time.
I met Patrick Swift in London in 1960, and saw him over a few weeks of that hot summer. He was living with Oonagh and their daughters Katty and Julie in a basement flat in Westbourne Terrace. As well as painting and drawing he was editing the magazine X with David Wright, and they had accepted the first piece of prose I published. Sometimes I stayed with him over night and we spent whole days together... I think he worked in borrowed studios and was looking for a permanent studio. I remember going with him to look at rooms for rent, but they were all either too expensive or depressing...
We often walked across Kensington Gardens to the Victoria and Albert, where I remember him enquiring about obtaining a ticket to the Reading Room with a view to working on some essays he was planning to write for X. We always looked at the Constable. It was he who first told me how well Constable wrote in letters about trees, especially the plane trees, with their peeled strips of bark — ‘They soak up the polluted air’ — and he quoted a favourite line, ‘Bring in the particular trees/ That caught you in their mysteries’, mentioning that he preferred trees to flowers...
He was tall, with thick black hair that sometimes fell across his face as he argued, and he had inherited his mother’s bird-like features. He wore casual, inexpensive clothes, black or blue shirts, and he was one of those people who always look elegant no matter what they wear. He moved at ease among all kinds of people...
Most of our evenings ended in Soho. They would start quietly enough near Lancaster Gate in a genteel bar... Sometimes there would be an argument between Paddy and David Wright as to whether to travel into Soho by the underground or by taxi. Paddy usually won. He loved travelling by taxi. We would go to the Swiss pub and then to the French... Later we would climb the narrow stairs to Muriel’s, then end the evening dancing into the hopeful hours at the Mandrake. ‘All Men are False said my Mother’ was a hit that year. Elizabeth Smart played it over and over on the jukebox. After such a night Paddy would be up at seven the next morning, bathe Katty and Julie, bring Oonagh tea or coffee in bed, toss the girls high into the air, playing and laughing with them as he dressed them and gave them breakfast. Then he would go to whatever borrowed studio he had.
Sometimes he would need to go into town to buy paints or canvas or on business connected with X, to see printers or to look for advertising, and I would go with him. I think he enjoyed this. Crafts and trades fascinated him… We always walked. We enjoyed walking, always looking around, talking about what we saw or something he was reminded of. None of this was in the least bit self-conscious but part of a vital energy... 'Well Kavanagh is at least a man of some genius. Why don't you try and see more of him?'
I told him that I had no inclination to go through the barrage of insult and abuse that seemed the necessary initiation to the doubtful joy of Kavanagh's company and that I preferred to read the work. I suggested that it might have been easier for him because he was from the city and a painter.
—'Not at all,' he laughed. 'The first time we met I was told that I was nothing but a gurrier and a fucking intellectual fraud.'
—'What happened then?'
—'Naturally after that I ignored him. Then one day Patrick MacDonogh took me to lunch — he was a Guinness rep, as well as a good minor poet and a charming man. After lunch we went into a bar and had a brandy at the counter. Kavanagh was at the back of the bar, with newspapers, probably the racing pages, and he was coughing and muttering and shifting around all the time we were there. MacDonogh had a business appointment and couldn't stay. As soon as he left, Kavanagh came up to the counter and demanded "What are you doing with that fraud MacDonogh?" As soon as I explained, he said, "You shouldn't be wastin' your time with fucking phoneys like that. I've been thinking about you and I think you may well be the real thing!"'
To my surprise, he hadn't told the story to Jimmy Swift, and when I told it to Jimmy, who knew Kavanagh, he went into hoots of laughter: 'I think we can safely say that it was no sudden critical insight that led to that conversation.'
I asked Paddy once how he rhymed Kavanagh's often boorish self with the sensitive and delicate verses. 'My dear boy, separation of Art and Life', he laughed outright. 'All those delicate love poems are addressed to himself, even if it is sometimes by way of God. Such sensitivity would be wasted on a mere Other. He once told me that he often used to dip into American poetry anthologies to put him into an inspirational mood in the mornings, but nowadays I think the very thought of his own importance is sufficient to get him into orbit.'
I think he understood perfectly the mixture of child and monster, fool and knave that went into the wayward intelligence of Kavanagh's genius. Out of the understanding has grown a deep, comic sympathy... 'He could be a dreadful coward as well as a bully. Once I got a frantic phonecall from him sulking in Pembroke Road. There was a bunch of Americans at O'Faolain's who wanted to meet him. He wouldn't go unless I came with him: "We will be moving into enemy territory." We went to O'Faolain's and he was like a mouse all evening. Of course there were roars afterwards; yet he can be funny and marvelous sometimes'...
He loved David Wright and David Gascoyne. He admired George Barker in much the same way as he admired Kavanagh, and Barker's life provided him with almost as much comic detail as Kavanagh's did... As with painting, he hardly ever spoke of his mother, probably because she was too close...
—'Why doesn't Tony exhibit?' he asked another time.' He has drawing talent'.
—'He doesn't seem to want to'.
—'He has far more talent than most of the people having shows in Dublin'...
...I remember letting it rest, though I thought the line of argument exceeding strange in his case. He had had one exhibition, which was notable for the acclaim it received, and never exhibited again. I felt like asking him why he was urging Tony to exhibit while patently unwilling to exhibit himself, but I knew instinctively that the question would not be welcomed.
He was having his portrait painted by Tim Behrens, and some mornings Katty and I went with him. He complained that he disliked sitting for his portrait, and I asked the obvious, 'Well, why do you do it?'
—'I suppose if you have to ask other people to sit for you, from time to time you have to do the same yourself.'
...Often Paddy and I went to galleries together... 'You can't write about painting', he asserted. 'The whole thing is tactile. The canvas is either alive or it isn't. You can only look'... Sometimes we would wander through the commercial galleries around Bond Street. He was particularly excited by a small show of Giacometti's sculptures, and he admired LS Lowry. He said then that anybody with enough money to buy a Lowry would make a fortune. It was always a pleasure to look at paintings with him, but I knew that I could never be more than a very lame follower. We talked about this: that I hadn't the vocabulary, how what I liked or disliked was completely haphazard, that I could never feel or see through paint the way I could with words. He argued that it was better to approach painting or sculpture with clear unprejudiced eyes rather than with a mass of opinions or preconceptions... That weakness was depressingly apparent when we went together to the Picasso retrospective... Picasso meant nothing to me. I found the variety of styles and colours dispiriting. I said I'd bow out... I remember saying to him as he rejoined me and we were leaving the gallery, 'I'm afraid I'd give the whole show for one small Juan Gris'. Paddy countered, 'I think it's true that no single painting works by itself in the exhibition, but when you see them together it's breathtaking; it's the variety, the colour, the vitality, the sheer exuberance. There is a certain type of good painter who disappears or is diminished in a big show, and there are others — none more so than Picasso — who need a big show to bring the work to life'...
Often we went to the National Gallery. Usually we split up. I was always sure to find him in the Rembrandt Room. A couple of times when he was pressed for time we went there directly. 'It's all so simple, such magic, so much life and death in one canvas', he said once. When I look at some of the portraits of his mother I am reminded of the portrait of Maria Trapp which he so admired.
Paddy wanted to make a drawing of me to send back as a present to his mother, and started it after lunch the day before I was to return to Dublin. He was having difficulty, and after several starts abandoned it, and we went to see a Disney film which was showing at the Paddington Cinema around the corner. He delighted in the pictures of the deer crossing the Artic wastes along with the train of predators. The next morning he finished the drawing. I packed it with my bags, and we had the whole of the idle day together until the 8:40 left Euston.
We sat for a while by the fountain before crossing to a bar on the Bayswater Road... 'It would be obscene to be anything but a romantic in this conformist age', Paddy asserted, and I disagreed, thinking it was more a matter or temperament and background...
By way of the many beautiful girls that passed along Bayswater Road, the talk turned to Balbec and the sea, to the great passages on memory in St Augustine's Confessions, and finally to the Image, how all artistic activity centres on bringing the clean image that moves us out into the light. On that we could agree. We could even order a large gin on the strength of it. Paddy quoted Aquinas: 'The image is a principal of our Knowledge. It is that from which our intellectual activity begins, not as a passing stimulus but as an enduring foundation.' And the 8:40 out of Euston was still hours away.
— John McGahern (novelist and short story writer), 'The Bird Swift', Love Of The World, Edited by Stanley van der Ziel,2009; Patrick Swift (1927-83), Gandon Editions, 1993
Patrick Swift in London
David Wright (poet)
...If we had one thing in common, it was that we put our vocations first and let our ‘careers’ follow as best they might — not that this attitude was anything but the norm in the strange and, as it now turns out to have been, short-lived society in which we met...
We met on a cold dark evening in the small bar of the Duke of Wellington at the corner of Wardour and Old Compton Street... was then, in the Spring of 1953, the favoured rendezvous of the poets, painters, and odd bods that constituted Soho society; chiefly because it was there that George Barker was to be found when he came up to town. It was in fact George Barker who introduced me... Swift... was seated beside Anthony Cronin, whom I also met for the first time... Swift and Cronin, through their friend Harry Craig, brought me to the attention of the publisher Derek Verschoyle — and this was typical of Swift, who took immense pains to push the product of anybody whose work he believed in, yet never bothered to promote his own.
As in those days the pub society of Soho met nightly or almost nightly, it did not take long to transmute acquaintanceship into friendship. Soon after we met, Swift invited me to sit for my portrait. I found myself travelling two or three mornings a week from my Great Ormond Street flat to Camden Town, where Swift had a studio, and where Cronin was temporarily lodging. I knew nothing about painting. I didn’t even know what I liked, but Swift’s precise images of trees, foliage, faces and figures disturbed me then, whereas they delight me now...
Some months — or it may have been a year — after our first meeting, Swift was given a travelling grant of £500 from the Cultural Relations Committee of the Irish Department of External Affairs to study painting in Europe... it was Cronin who entered Paddy’s name for him when Paddy was abroad...
Meanwhile, I had got involved, first as an adviser, then as an associate, and finally as co-editor, with a magazine called Nimbus... it was through Swift that what one might term my greatest scoop was achieved. Swift was back in Ireland, and from there posted me a thick bound volume of typescript poems with no author's name on them nor any explanation of their provenance. But it didn’t take me more than two minutes to realise that these were unpublished poems by the legendary Patrick Kavanagh — I say legendary because though no English literary magazine had the nous to print his work in those days, his was a name to conjure with among the denizens of Soho... Nimbus printed nineteen of them in a single issue. This was seen by the then poetry reader for Longmans, Thomas Blackburn, and led to the publication of Come Dance with Kitty Stobling in 1960, and to Kavanagh’s subsequent, if long-delayed, fame.
Not that fame mattered much to Swift: the work was all, at least as far as he himself was concerned. After his first, acclaimed, exhibition in Dublin — before I knew him — he decided that celebrity was a nuisance, a distraction… And one day I found him in his underground flat in Westbourne Terrace busily taking down all his canvases (or rather hardboards, for in those days he couldn’t afford canvas) from the walls and stowing them away in a cellar. His reason was: a millionaire art fancier had rung up to say he was calling and Swift did not want him to buy, or so much as see, his work...
I received a letter from Swift inviting me to come in with him to edit a new quarterly magazine...
Eventually, after many months, Ms Hutchinson succeeded in finding a backer for the magazine, who turned out to be a most unlikely patron for the kind of venture that Swift and I projected. He was Michael Berry, now Lord Hartwell, the owner of the Daily Telegraph.
He undertook to back the first four numbers of X (as the magazine was called, after the mathematical symbol for the unknown quantity), and proved to be an ideal backer — he never interfered... Swift of course was responsible for the art side of the magazine: he designed the striking format (the size of the page was in fact determined by the dimensions of a menu-card in a caff behind Victoria Station where we happened to be having a cup of coffee). Those were the boom years of abstract art... he promoted the work of then little known figurative painters, among them the young Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, and Craigie Aitchison, and such artists — as yet uncannonised — as Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, and the forgotten David Bomberg, to say nothing of the continentals like Kokoschka, Giacometti, André Masson. Examples of their work were reproduced, and, more importantly, it was Swift’s idea that the artists should speak for themselves, which was achieved either by transcribing their recorded conversation (not ‘interviews’) or by publishing their notebooks. Swift’s unearthing and editing of David Bomberg’s outspoken and apocalyptic pensées scattered about his miscellaneous papers, was an outstanding contribution.
Nor was he any less active on the literary side of the magazine. Here Swift and I worked in perfect harmony...
X survived for two years and ended with its seventh number. Its circulation was never much more than 3,000, I believe, but its influence was considerable... After our first year, Michael Berry generously agreed to back a further two numbers. The seventh, and final, number was paid for by the sale of author’s manuscripts from the six previous issues. If Swift and I did not try very hard to find a new backer, it was not because we felt the job we had set out to do was wholly accomplished, but because neither of us could stand much more of the stresses and pressures to which were subjected. Mary Hutchinson, without whom the magazine would never have come into being, proved to be our old lady at the sea. She was forever ringing one or other of us up with notions for the magazine… out of which she had to be politely argued — an exercise that, I do not exaggerate, often occupied us for several hours a day... In the end, Swift had to give up answering his telephone...
Not long before the appearance of the last number of X, Patrick, his wife Oonagh and their two children left England for Portugal… But this was not the end of our collaboration. A few months after Swift had settled in the then remote and primitive fishing-village of Carvoeiro in Algarve, I went to stay with him; which visit engendered the idea of our writing a book, to be illustrated with his line drawings, about that then unknown corner of Portugal. The success of this book — essentially a portrait of the old Algarve before tourism and progress had a chance to dilute its individuality — led to our being commissioned to write another, this time about Minho and the north of Portugal. A third book, to do with Lisbon and the Alentejo, completed our survey of the country. In these books are recorded, by one or the other of us, all my later adventures with Swift, whom I can only call the most remarkable man I have ever known.
— David Wright, Patrick Swift 1927-83, Gandon Editions, 1993
Lima de Freitas (artist, writer)
The following text was written in 1974 for the catalogue of Patrick Swift’s exhibition at the S. Mamede Gallery in Lisbon
In a beautifully perceptive essay which Patrick Swift contributed to Homage to George Barker... he put forward certain ideas which I think are worth recalling...
Patrick Swift refers to St Augustine's view of the human personality, whose essence is the divine word (Logos). From this springs all artistic expression. It provides the touchstone for judging the validity (or not, as the case may be) of all forms of thought and expression, poetic and creative, within whose core lies the Mystery. Patrick Swift writes:
It is his comments on the metaphysics of Aristotle that the sentence of Aquinas occurs: The philosopher is related to the poet in that both are concerned with mirandum. This strikes me as a serious remark and one relevant to the moment. For confessional disclosures about aspects of the individual psychology do not constitute a considerable substitute for the mirandum of which Saint Thomas Aquinas speaks. There is the Mystery, and it will always be the important part of the poet's function to acknowledge it; and unless science can explain origins (and not merely origin of species but the origin of our existence and its purpose) it will remain unsatisfying to the serious mind.
Evaluation is not a function of reason: reason deals with accepted facts, including accepted values. Ignorance of this is the root of rational philistinism.
This is the very heart of the problem of artistic communication. As Samuel Beckett says: '... the only possible spiritual development is in the sense of depth. The artistic tendency is not expansive but a contraction. And art is the apotheosis of solitude. There is no communication because there are no vehicles of communication. Even on the rare occasions when word and gesture happen to be valid expressions of the personality, they lose their significance on their passage through the cataract of the personality that is opposed to them. Either we speak and act for ourselves in which case speech and action are distorted and emptied of their meaning by an intelligence that is not ours or else we speak and act for others — in which case we speak and act a lie.'
'What then is the answer to this condition?', asks Patrick Swift. For the poet Ezra Pound's explanation or statement of how the poem gets written explains his immediate relationship to the Dilemma: 'They were made for no man's entertainment but because a man believing in silence found himself unable to withhold from speaking.' Or from painting, I would add.
These thoughts of Patrick Swift seem to me essential to an understanding of the personality and work of this Irish artist, whose works are now on show in Lisbon for the first time.
Having had a long and warm friendship with Patrick Swift, I regard it as a very great privilege to present this exhibition of his works. They are the product of his years in the Algarve, where he has lived since 1962, in a whitewashed house built by himself among fig trees, overlooking the sea. He jealously guards his privacy and simple way of life, though never selfishly and always with generosity to his family and friends. No one who visits his studio (guided by a kerosene lamp) can doubt that he is a very special person.
Yet what sort of man is he, this friendly, hospitable Celt who has deliberately chosen to live in an isolated corner of Portugal, where the clear night sky sparkles with constellations never seen by city eyes? Is he simply an unaffected original, a fugitive from hectic metropolitan life, candidly retreating into the trees he so loves to paint in his deceptively naïve, timeless style? Or is he little more than an eccentric balladeer, nostalgically singing in the evening light of sufferings and mysteries of a very old legendary country? Patrick Swift speaks little about his past, he is averse to confession... What I know of him I have pieced together from revelations in unguarded moments and from hints and allusions over many years of friendship and collaboration. The picture which has thus emerged is surprising and unexpected. I have come to realise that he possesses an extraordinary knowledge of painting, poetry and philosophy, that his thought is unusually penetrating and profound, his writing lucid and his cultural appreciation remarkably wide-ranging. But there is more than this. Gradually I have become convinced that Patrick Swift has a right to be regarded as a major artistic figure in post-war Europe. Not only is he a distinguished painter, but he was also one of the founders, with David Wright, of perhaps the foremost literary and artistic review of the post-war years. In X... one can find original articles by such artists as Alberto Giacometti, Auberjonois, David Bomberg, Andre Masson, Oskar Kokoschka, poems by Ezra Pound, Jules Supervielle, Milosz, Kavanagh... essays by Ghika, René Daumal, Samuel Beckett...
It is perhaps difficult, at first, to reconcile the image of the solitary Irishman in his Algarve retreat with that of the driving force of a review which was so amazingly international and which played such a central role in the cultural milieu of the early 1960’s. Yet the evidence is indisputable...
The explanation is not easy. What is certain is that Patrick Swift has a deep dislike of cultural fashions... What he sought was solitude.(‘The temple is holy’ — proclaimed Ezra pound — ‘because it is not for sale’) The solitude he sought is that described by Beckett, where there is space and time to nurture that tender, vulnerable plant, the True Self... Such a solitude is in no sense an escape or an easy compromise...
Anyway, Patrick Swift reached the haven of the Algarve coast, the same coast his Celtic forefathers knew so well. Whose eye could better appreciate its natural beauty, its scented hills, the light, sublime, the vibrant vegetation shimmering under the burning sun? Here his painting, which before had been sophisticated and ‘cultured’, was stripped bare and became a paean of praise, both voluptuous and sacred, to a perennial Spring. His exaltation bursts forth in a blaze of colour- like in Soutine, but a Soutine of happiness. He is intoxicated by a joy that casts away the erudite codes of style and revelled in the tangibility of the natural world. Impatiently, Patrick Swift searches out the roots of inner essence. A conjunction of opposites, of a characteristically fiery imagination and the cool verdure of plants and trees produced a kind of ‘naturalism' — but one which is the antithesis of timid conformity and mediocrity and could only have emerged from a process of rediscovering and reshaping a lost innocence. There is nothing here of the sentimental, pretentious lyrics, of the typical provincial artist: Patrick Swift’s paintings are an act of praise and wonder.
…Patrick Swift painted these trees after his time in London and Paris… His painting, whether one is attracted to it or not, has to be seen with hindsight. It can only be appreciated after fully taking in what has been the European experience of recent times.
Who these days pays attention to the clamorous making and breaking of reputations and the compiling of artistic league tables? To paraphrase Robert Graves, there is a simple response to those who insist that there is a ‘correct’ way of painting: if a painting is Art, then it is of no interest...
The natural world he is striving to put on his canvases has no resemblance to the preconceived clichés of weary, blinkered city dwellers out for a tranquillising weekend in the countryside. Patrick Swift saw something different: a natural world both vaster and more intimate, a world lying almost dormant in the deepest recesses of the unconscious, at a level where man's primeval dreams and motivations are born. It is that great divide, separating our natural from our civilised selves, where 'animus' and 'anima' meet, where the mystery of reintegration will, if it can, occur. Will it in fact ever be possible? Only the solitary man can answer that question today; plunging into the depths, seeking out that tiny nodule of consciousness where a still, forgotten voice says 'I am'. Painting, by breaking the vow of silence, is then the voice of a man who 'cannot withhold from speaking'.
The above text was written in 1974 for the catalogue of Patrick Swift's only exhibition in Lisbon, at the S Mamede Gallery. The opening took place just a month before the 'flower revolution' of 25 April. During the following years, Patrick Swift devoted himself to running the traditional pottery he had created in Algarve... Patrick Swift had gone to the Algarve in search of the retreat and solitude he needed to sound, through his painting, his inner self. And he was fortunate, for he had long periods of pure creative peace...
The Portuguese, as is often the case, have not yet fully appreciated what Patrick Swift did for their country. (It is interesting though, that Francisco Sá Carneiro was one of the few who did recognise his work; when he became Prime Minister he commissioned him to paint his portrait.)... but this is also partly due to his personality and style of life. Proud, wise and independent he despised opportunism and was hostile to easy success...
I see him yet, a good and dear friend! I shall always see him as a man of profound dignity, generous and proud, a man ceaselessly questioning and seeking, and sometimes seemingly lost in a contemplation of the infinite mystery of life, far in some remote land of savage beauty.
— Lima de Freitas (Portuguese artist and writer), Patrick Swift 1927-83, Gandon Editions, 1993
Katherine Swift (artist; Swift's eldest daughter)
...He had a great many friends. People were always coming and going. On several occasions I went to the butcher's with an Indian poet called Dom Moraes from Goa, who cooked kidneys for breakfast when he spent the night. Brian Higgins (a poet from Hull) often slept in the living room, and I was fond of waking him by riding my huge antique tricycle into the front door. He was always good humoured about it. Patrick Kavanagh used to sit in the kitchen and nearly always seemed to stay to lunch or dinner...
I was too small to remember why we left London...
My father was always popular wherever he went, but in Carvoeiro he soon became a local hero... With his musical ear and knowledge of Latin, he was able to speak and read Portuguese almost immediately. He negotiated the rental of a large green house built looking over the rest of the village.
One of the fishermen was a character known as the 'Destroyer' — he had damaged himself in some way by getting the bends when dynamiting and diving for fish... My father painted a series of portraits of him. He was paid to sit, and remained motionless for hours. There was also a walled garden at the back of the house where my father painted the almond trees.
At some stage, not long after we were installed in the green house, my father hired a shed in the countryside, and there painted a very large and magnificent painting of the Algarve in the springtime, when everything is green...
after we moved from the green house to the cottage...
He had no studio as such in the cottage, and would work while our mother took us for walks. It was an awkward arrangement, but he painted some fine landscapes in these conditions nevertheless.
On winter evenings he read poetry to us by the fire. I remember Blake and Wordsworth were great favourites...
Brian Higgins came to stay, but the cottage was tiny and he stayed next door, joining us for meals... My father was always generous, and patient, and never begrudged providing poets with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Higgins spent at least a year with us.
Art materials were hard to come by. In order to get them you had to go to Lisbon to the Rua de Rosa... It must have required all my father's charm and tolerance to negotiate for materials, but he succeeded. He bought oil paint in large tins, bristle brushes and rolls of cotton canvas. The local carpenter made him his stretchers, and he always found someone to help him to stretch his large canvases. When he had to, for want of anything better, he would use paraffin as a medium. Broken glass always served as a palette.
He liked to work in the morning, and was very much a morning person. He was always up early (often at six o'clock) whistling and making breakfast. Ideally he liked to spend three hours painting every morning, and he told me that it was then he did his best work. Any work done after that never quite matched up.
He liked to block in a painting quickly — often in a morning — and then proceed at his leisure. He would often work on the same painting for months. He sometimes left a painting, and then returned to it much later. It was years before some of his paintings were finished, although he painted others in a matter of weeks. He believed that observation was the basis of all good painting, and considered some sort of instruction in drawing, and drawing from life above all, to be essential. At the same time, however, he saw academic training as restraining and destructive to the creative person...
When he was drawing from life at the art school in Dublin, my father liked to use a pen and ink, which kept his drawing as free and spontaneous as possible...
As a young man he painted with a limited palette of black, white (titanium and zinc), raw umber, burnt umber, raw sienna and burnt sienna. He once advised me to try this, which I did, and I found it to be a surprisingly complete palette, excellent for portraiture in particular, and I set quite a trend in the place where I was working at the time...
He had an enormous enthusiasm for painting. He visited museums and galleries whenever he had the opportunity, and often complained about missing so many exhibitions. He was always envious if I happened to see something he wanted to. He admired Titian's late self-portraits, and Rembrandt's intensely. He was full of praise for Velázquez, Pierro della Francesca, Monet, Cézanne, Bonnard, and Kokoschka.
One day my father was talking to me about his plans to paint the almond blossom which bedecks the Algarve so famously in spring. Apparently, he had painted a particularly good painting of almond blossom in his youth, and still regretted having sold it. It had 'just the right amount of pink if you know what I mean'. He told me how Bonnard, when lying on his deathbed, painted an almond tree with the help of a student. Just before he died he said to the student, 'put a little more pink on the blossom'...
When we moved to our big new house... my father had, at last, a studio to work in. It was an octagonal room with windows all around it which remained shuttered most of the time. Here he was able to work on a larger scale than before, and also enjoyed a little more peace. It was then that he began to work on the paintings which were exhibited in Lisbon in 1974.
His work in Portugal became increasingly expressive and he explored the application of the mark with more intensity, applying thick paint — even dollops of it — to a thinly applied ground. His painting became more forceful and energetic, and his colours were extremely honest. The yellows and blues he put on his canvases were really there outside the window. This freedom in his work was quite different to the controlled restraint of his early work.
He nearly always painted portraits of either people or trees. I think he was fascinated by the patterns that branches make and was often painting the spaces between them, treating this subject in an almost abstract way.
— Katherine Swift (artist; Swift's eldest daughter),Patrick Swift 1927-83, Gandon Editions, 1993
Tim Motion (photographer and jazz musician)
...The year 1963 was a busy one; as well as painting, book-writing and photography, we bought land beyond the lighthouse… We planned houses, drove to England, Dublin, and returned via Rome...
In 1965 Swift held an exhibition of drawings in Lisbon, and I started plans for a ‘music bar’ in Carvoeiro. The latter was all due to an inebriated conversation in Maria da Gloria’s taberna one night — two hours after a remark from Paddy that we needed somewhere to go at night, I found myself the new owner of a crumbling earth-walled building in the middle of the village and £1,000 poorer — money that I didn’t have. Over the next two years I gradually became a nightclub owner. Paddy was always instructive in the design and decoration of these premises...
Paddy meanwhile was installed in his new studio atop the splendid Swift house...
At about the same time he realised a dream of persuading local potters to develop their craft, and enhance their pottery with ancient and traditional designs which had all but died out, designs evocative of Cretan/ Minoan and ‘majolica’ ware. With the boom in tourism this venture became very successful, and with constant technical improvements and training of local people in the painting of ceramics, Porches Pottery became famous...
I think that Swift painted his deepest and certainly most peaceful works during the latter years of the seventies, and he was still producing watercolours while bedridden towards the end of his life.
For myself, a somewhat repressed middle-class lad with romantic notions of life and art, this feigned unseriousness and freedom of expression within a hawk-eyed and committed moral framework was mysterious and liberating. But Paddy Swift was cunningly dismissive of his art: ‘It’s just making marks, dear boy’, he would say, ‘just making marks. A way of passing the time.'
— Tim Motion (photographer and jazz musician; his photographs illustrate Swift’s Algarve - a portrait and a guide and other books on Portugal), Patrick Swift 1927-83, Gandon Editions, 1993
Jacques D'Arribehaude (French cinéaste and documentary film director)
...When, overwhelmed by the beauty of the Portuguese coast, I tried to capture its splendour with my movie camera, Patrick drew my attention towards the human element, which I was inclined to use merely as distant silhouettes in my films. 'Faces!' he would say to me, 'Look at the faces!' And when he repeated these words to me in the National Museum in Lisbon, as we looked at the famous polyptique of Nuno Gonçalves, the shock I felt revealed to me the full meaning of his words. One has the same kind of magical feeling here as in Lascaux and at Altamira or by the ancient pyramids — that sacred overleaping towards immortality found in medieval illuminated manuscripts and in Byzantine icons. But at the same time, and here is the real surprise, the funeral character of our traditional ancestor worship, lurking always at the back of our dreams, is here abolished by the unbelievable vitality of the faces, which for more than five centuries have looked at and called out to us...
Patrick told me one day that, in his eyes, the word 'happiness' was a meaningless expression and one which he had, long ago, excised from his vocabulary. And yet, for me, it was hard to see him as anything other than the living image and exemplar of the happy man. Yet he spoke truthfully, for like all true artists he was torn and seared by opposing passions. And though he always gave the impression of great humour and a serene temperament, he was inwardly subjected to doubt, melancholy, and the blackest turbulence of the soul... through him I learnt that happiness, like life, is only a dream. And that here on earth the one reality that counts is to shoulder one's destiny with dignity.
We were to meet again, all too briefly, alas, in his beloved Ireland, and in our dear Paris. Then many years seemed to pass in a twinkling. But we kept in touch through friends and letters, and I knew that his wit and talent continued to brighten that corner of the Algarve which he had made his kingdom. He was one of those exceedingly rare men, who, at the first meeting, strike one as unforgettable, and whose emphatic presence, whose look and smile, would follow one to the end of life. How often, when dispirited by some misfortune or non-happening in my life, have I not longed for the comfort of his presence and for his friendly sympathy...
In the studio, our friend the photographer Tim Motion is taking photographs of Patrick's work — strong, expressive portraits of the countryfolk that remind me of our visits to the Lisbon art galleries ('Faces! look at the faces!') — and I notice that, as in the work by Nuno Gonçalves, the sea rarely appears in Swift's paintings, although perhaps one senses its presence, if only in the subtly changing lights where greens and blues melt into one another and one imagines a deep homesickness within the artist. There is that great agonising Irish landscape, in which an old couple seem to be precipitated out of the background, to welcome with unutterable love and tenderness a blond and bouncing child who seems to carry with him all the hopes of this earth...
I feel more than ever the mystery of art as I look at the photographs which Tim has taken of the paintings, in which one sees the anguish of an artist whose soul is about to leave this world. I see it in the last, beautiful, and moving portrait of his friend Sá Carneiro, who also met with a tragic and premature death. Yes, from that first enigmatic portrait of Oonagh, painted with Piero della Francesca's colours in Rome 1954... to the baroque twisting luxuriance of the landscapes (an obsession with roots perhaps) back to the fervent warmth of that final tribute to Sá Carneiro, I judge the path he took, the strength and diversity of his work, so cruelly interrupted at its zenith, in its full glory...
As in the great masters of painting, I notice that his use of cold tonality which at a superficial glance might seem to dominate (green and blue in the landscape) gives instead a strange feeling of warmth, apparently coming from nowhere, but nonetheless incandescent. It is then that the warm colours — the ardent yellows, ochres, burnt siennas — mix subtly with the colder colours which exist behind them. And yet, in the breathtaking flamboyance of the fig trees... one sees all the fire of the entire world, her fabulous strength, her hidden violence. The arborescent roots twist and intertwine in a wild exuberance, the leaves vibrate as though lifted by the torrential bubbling of metal in fusion, and in them one sees all the chaos of torment and night, of disorder, and of genius after a final and exhausting battle triumphant over nature...
And I also think of Bonnard's profound and crucial words: 'What matters is not to paint life, but to make painting alive...'
A gamble that was taken up and won by Patrick Swift, whose paintings reveal how he filled his too brief life and made of it this unhurried, secret, and magnificent apotheosis.
— Jacques D'Arribehaude (French cinéaste and documentary film director), Patrick Swift 1927-83, Gandon Editions, 1993
Lionel Miskin (painter and ceramicist)
There are artists…and artists: I am not endeared to them as a category. And excellence — that’s so much in doubt, in dispute at the best of times. Personally I have always been intrigued by the rare possibility of the kind of artist who not only paints well, but makes a beautiful small envelope around him that laps over the edges of canvases and whatever else he works on to form an environment in which he and perhaps his family now receive you. But I met him twice only: at the very beginning of his artistic life, and at the end of it.
It may have been 1951, I am not sure when, I was over in Dublin to have a show of my own stuff that someone thought of taking me along to see a young painter everyone was talking about... Well, he meant business alright- that was obvious. That afternoon he seemed, to me, remarkably sure of himself, serious, not given to gratuitous smiles, pretty formidable, a very handsome, clear-eyed man with the faint touch of contempt in his expression that I associated with the men in Manet’s paintings...
But let me describe the house...
If you build your house as you really want it, shape it, decorate it, place it in its environment as he had done, it’s no longer any common or garden house. Its an extension of you — as the territory is around a queen ant. It's an art object, but in spite of Oscar Wilde's canon, a useful one; one...to use... Patrick's house was remarkable... Everything about it was fascinating, surprising, individual... It was my first experience of such a place and I shall never forget it. You need a lot of will, strength and contempt for a certain limitation of professionalism that makes people work only for money and fame, to create such a place for yourself, for your family, and at the same time against a background of painting and running a pottery...
Patrick’s own ceramics were a lesson in many ways — they were in the simplest way figurative and decorative, completely individual, really worked in the medium, and had about them such a breath of life and imagination expressed with a very particular touch and brio... Patrick really released his imagination in his pottery and pressed the medium to its utmost absolutely, not as potters ever do, but painters like Picasso, Chagall...
The great film director Jean Renoir’s biography of his father left me with this feeling, finally, he had rated him even more for the way he lived than for his masterpieces. And it’s not so common among artists. So many are diminished in life as they expand in their work. But it was all of a piece with Patrick: his wife Oonagh, his daughters, the whole set-up… they added up to something. I sensed it as anyone would immediately. After my brief visit I really felt I had been in a very unusual household, in a sense, just in time... And for a long time felt very sad for them all. What’s the use of saying the man could have done so many more excellent things. But that’s how it was — he was at the peak of his powers.
— Lionel Miskin (painter and ceramicist; studied at St Martin’s College), Patrick Swift 1927-83, Gandon Editions, 1993
The Sunday Tribune
The lost hope of Irish art
Belated recognition for Patrick Swift, a painter born out of his time
James Joyce did it. Roderic O’Connor did it. Even the formidable Patrick Swift did it – leave, that is, the Emerald Isle for farther shores. But whereas Joyce’s fame mushroomed, Swift, like O’Connor, disappeared into relative obscurity as far as his homeland was concerned.
Again, like O’Connor, Swift was a considerable painter, yet after a spectacular debut he showed rarely in his lifetime and in the annals of contemporary Irish art he is, beyond a small number of people, virtually unknown.
A major retrospective at IMMA – extraordinarily enough, his first exhibition in Ireland since 1952 – should change all that…
Swift studied at the NCAD in the 1940s and, after a brief spell in Paris, set to work in Dublin with his friend Lucian Freud…
He was always down to earth in his treatment and subject matter, something of a kitchen sink painter even before the term was invented…
He moved to London, a melting pot of cultural and artistic ideas. At home in “the Bohemian jungle of Soho”, he partook of artistic and, always, literary life…
Enormous changes were afoot in the art world, however. Abstraction of one kind or another dominated post war Europe. Then there were the American Abstract Expressionists. Pop art was just around the corner.
Swift saw the kind of art that he made – more, the kind of artistic world within which he dwelled – under threat as never before. He was a representational artist through and through, in the Kokoschka mould. Fidelity to visual experience above all. But he saw the mere survival of this tradition as being under threat…
Yet the record of his own work suggests that he took an unduly alarmist view of contemporary developments. His paintings, for example, often went more than halfway towards abstraction inasmuch as there is a useful distinction to be drawn between abstraction and representation at all.
He had an analytical eye and many paintings are reminiscent not only of Cézanne, whom he greatly admired, but of Mondrian (before he had restricted himself to grids), whom Swift also, suprisingly enough, had a great deal of time for…
Swift departed for the Algarve in Portugal in 1962…
It certainly wasn’t early retirement. His 20 years in Portugal confirmed him as a man of exceptional energies…
Cézanne is the dominant influence on the work, including some monumental landscapes, that he made in Portugal (and on a visit to France in the 1970s). At their best these paintings have a bracing freedom and a fine grasp of underlying structure…
This exhibition should do much to restore him to his rightful place in the history of contemporary Irish art.
— Aidan Dunne, The lost hope of Irish art, The Sunday Tribune, Nov 28, 1993
The Irish Times, Aidan Dunne
Patrick Swift's portrait of Patrick Kavanagh, for example, is positively iconic. Painted in London in 1961, it is ambitious in scale and scope, giving an account of the writer as a monumental — though somewhat truculent — figure. No single viewpoint could give us the view of Kavanagh's head that Swift offers. It is as if he unfolds a conventional three-dimensional image in a quasi-cubist manner.
- Aidan Dunne, The Irish Times, 02 Dec 2006
The fall and rise of Patrick Swift
Brian Fallon, The Irish Times, June 11, 1992
...Swift was one of the key Irish painters of his time, a fact which was appreciated here a generation ago and is gradually being realised again. A kind of personal legend has accumulated around him, which has even been felt by people who never met him.
I never met Swift myself — his Dublin career was before my time — but I did see him once, perhaps at some opening of the Living Art Exhibition. I remember a thin, dark young man with a saturnine, rather nervous look... His one and only exhibition in Dublin... made an immediate impression, and Swift was written up... in Time magazine.
Today, this would be the door to the kind of international reputation which every young art-college product slaves after... With Swift, however, it led to nothing remotely like that... And what is even stranger, he scarcely exhibited again except in group shows, and rarely even then...
Many people assumed he had stopped painting altogether...
...he belonged to the Patrick Kavanagh cénacle and was close friends of Anthony Cronin, Pearse Hutchinson, Ralph Cusack and other literary or arty personalities who centred around Bell and Envoy and McDaid’s pub. He painted portraits of most of these and seems to have been regarded by them as “their” painter, though this appears to have been more a matter of friendship and appreciation than of coterie solidarity. Swift was an extremely independent personality – so much so, in fact, that he opted out of the art world in his thirties...
A peculiarity of this epoch, both in Dublin and London, was the mingling of writers and artists and their interaction on each other. From early on Swift was associated with literary magazines...
In London Swift, almost inevitably, moved into the Soho bohemia which included Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, George Barker, W.S. Graham, John Minton, William Crozier... Again, he painted portraits of several of these men, most of which were never shown in public...
The Soho intelligentsia tended to drink too much and to live on its nerves; a number of promising painters of Swift’s own generation could not take the pace they had set themselves, and ended as alcoholics or even as suicides. Swift simply broke with it all, moving his family to Portugal in 1962...
I remember a few works by him being included in (I think) a group show by the Independent Artists in Lower Abbey Street, about twenty years ago — Portuguese landscapes, but I have lost the relevant catalogue and have not been able to check on this. He was also represented in the Irish Imagination which formed a section of the 1971 Rosc Exhibition...
He also illustrated a number of books, including a guide to the Algarve region of which I once owned a copy (vanished, alas); another commission was for Heinrich Boll's German translation of The Hard Life by Flann O'Brien...
Swift paid a visit to Dublin a few years before he died, for his daughter’s wedding, and took notes and photographs of Co Wicklow landscapes for some large paintings he was planning. His family originally had come from Wicklow to Dublin...When he died, there were stirrings of interest in his career, but nothing more.
Since then this interest has grown rapidly — not only in Swift, but in the entire milieu he emerged from. Last year’s Edward McGuire exhibition added fuel to it, since McGuire’s starting point as an artist was Swift’s work, a fact which he himself repeatedly acknowledged...
I suspect that another chapter in Irish art will have to be rewritten when the 1993 exhibition finally takes shape.
— Brian Fallon, The Irish Times, June 11, 1992
The legacy of Patrick Swift
Beian Fallon, The Irish Times, Dec 2, 1993
…probably no painter here since the Literary Revival has had a more central role in cultural life in the broader sense. And not only in Ireland either; Swift was a seminal figure in London too, even if the general public knew very little of him and indeed scarcely saw his work. He was a catalyst, an inspirer, a go-between creating links between painters and literary men, a propagandist for some major talents (including Francis Bacon) which fashion had not yet caught up with…
His closest friend and associate was the South African poet David Wright, and between them they founded the magazine X, which ran from 1959 to 1961 — a mere two-and-a-half years, but its importance was out of all proportion to its lifeline. Giacometti (who Swift had met in Paris in 1953), Beckett, André Masson, Kavanagh, Barker, John McGahern, were among its contributors, and among the painters featured were Bacon and Auerbach, both relatively obscure figures at the time...
Yet Swift seems to have made little effort to exhibit in London during these years, though he painted steadily — portraits, landscapes, views from his studio window, still life. Perhaps he felt increasingly hemmed in by London, perhaps the new climate of the Sixties alienated him, perhaps he felt he had done all he could achieve there and needed a radical break; in any case, in 1962 he moved with his wife Oonagh and their children to a village in the Algarve region of Portugal...
Like many of the brighter people of the time, he had gone to Synge Street School, where John Jordan and Pearse Hutchinson were contemporaries…
Swift had a strong personality, with a clear, cultured mind and articulate views, and Dublin has never forgotten either the man or his work, though for years both were absent and out of fashion…
A full-length life of Swift himself cannot be long delayed; apart from his inherent gifts as a painter, there can be few Irishmen of his epoch, whether poets or painters or novelists, who are of such biographical interest and who touched their age at so many key points.
— Brian Fallon, The legacy of Patrick Swift, The Irish Times, Dec 2, 1993
Swift now enjoying the fame he shunned
The Irish Press
...'It's not so much that he was a recluse, it was much more a case that he was out of sympathy with the prevailing mood of the art world at the time', explains Declan McGonagle of the Irish Museum of Modern Art...
'The art world was all about being seen and being out there in the market, whereas he believed that the artist's job was separate from that', explains McGonagle. 'He felt painting was about the inner self, about describing emotional or spiritual changes'...
— The Irish Press, Dec 3, 1993
He painted the trees and gardens he cherished and the people he loved; because he was, happily, not unduly concerned, a style that came naturally to him shortly became his own distinctive 'style' — his signature — as uniquely his own as the subject content. Swift's peculiar style reminds us of nobody but the artist — a telling point with a painter who has set no store on this aspect of the job. In Swift we have, then, a man with an observation that is both curious and affectionate — for his attention to details in his subject is paternal and not academic. He is as clear in his meaning as his painterly technique is pellucid in style.
— John Ryan, Rosc Catalogue, 1971
Freud had already shown in London and Paris when he came to Dublin in 1948 [most likely when Swift and Freud first met], partly on a pilgrimage to Jack B Yeats, who had just enjoyed a retrospective at the Tate; and whom Freud declared the greatest living painter… Freud seemed closest to artist Paddy Swift…In September 1951 Kitty Garman wrote to her mother…She mentions Freud working on a painting in Paddy Swift’s Hatch Street studio, Dead Cock’s Head 1951, painted on the same red velvet chair as Swift’s Woodcock 1951. Anthony Cronin recalls the two men painting side-by-side when he stayed in Hatch Street c.1950, Freud more obsessed by surface and detail than Swift.
— Mic Moroney, 'Lucian Freud: Prophet of Discomfort', Irish Arts Review, 2007
Now I am bound to admit that though not devoid of ambition in the graining, lettering and marbling line, my real talents lay not in painting. My father and grandfather were painters, and at an exhibition of Patrick Swift's, Victor Waddington remarked that of all present my father was the only painter with a Union Card. My granny was forewoman gilder at Brindley's of Eustace Street and on my mother's side the Kearneys were and are similarly engaged. For all that, maybe because of that, I am allergic to painting. Not to paint mark you. But to putting the stuff on.
— Brendan Behan, Confessions of an Irish Rebel, 1965, p.155
Dear Hemingway Ryan,
A strange thing – I was thinking of Swift and Cronin and all when I saw this – I shed a tear of tequila into my vaso.
F Scott Behan
I’d better say ‘Kavanagh would loved the place’ – I’m quite sure he wouldn’t – I hope he’s well.
— The Letters of Brendan Behan, E.H. Mikhail, November 27, 1991; a postcard from Tijuana, Mexico, to John Ryan, dated 12 July 1961; the Murals of Diego Rivera printed on the postcard. Note: By the mid 1950s Patrick Swift and Anthony Cronin refused to speak to Behan due, in their view, to Behan's ill treatment of Kavanagh.
Letter from Patrick Kavanagh to his brother Peter
Got your latest letter today. P. Swift sent poems to David Wright, Editor Nimbus also co-Editor Faber Book of 20th Century Verse. He said: 'I am incoherent with enthusiasm, he is not an Irish poet, he is the Irish poet. This is the goods. All my life I have been wrong about P.K.'
Obviously, Macmillan's have made a balls of themselves for the poems will get published.
— Patrick Kavanagh, Sacred Keeper, Biography by Peter Kavanagh, p.298, The Goldsmith Press, 1979
Patrick Kavanagh: A Biography
...his meeting with Claire McAllister in late spring 1948... she had come to Europe to study and was visiting Dublin from Paris... Their paths did cross again, for Claire moved to Dublin in 1949. Alas for Kavanagh, she soon became the live-in partner of one of his new friends, the talented young painter Patrick Swift...
Envoy, launched in December 1949 under John Ryan's editorship, rather than being socially orientated like The Bell, had a cultural mission to present all that was outstanding and genuinely creative in Irish art and to bring the best in international writing and art to the attention of Irish readers... Ryan recruited some of the liveliest and most progressive Irish or Ireland-based writers, intellectuals and artists...
Every month his 'Diary' appeared...
Around one o'clock the Envoy office would empty itself into John McDaid's...where much of the journal's business was conducted. The clientele was a mixture of working class and bohemian... Kavanagh had not patronised McDaid's in the past, but from now on he adopted it as his city-centre local...
His association with Envoy brought him into contact with a circle of young artists and intellectuals. Chief among these, apart from John Ryan himself, were Anthony Cronin (1928- ), Patrick Swift (1927-83) and, to a lesser extent at first, John Jordan (1930-88). Cronin and Swift would remain his friends, allies and promoters until the early sixties, Ryan and Jordan for the remainder of his life...
Patrick Swift came to prominence as a painter at the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1950, when one influential critic rated him the most promising of the newcomers. Kavanagh had at first dismissed the 23-year-old artist as a phoney because he was something of a dandy... he may have been further irritated by Swift's annexing of Claire McAllister as his live-in partner... Swift and 'Marmalade', as she was known because of her red hair, were a couple by April 1949. According to Swift, Kavanagh at their first meeting denounced him as 'nothing but a gurrier and a fucking intellectual fraud'. After this, Swift kept his distance. Some months later he was lunching with Patrick MacDonogh, poet and Guinness rep... as soon as MacDonogh left he joined Swift at the counter and asked what he was doing 'with that fraud MacDonogh?'. 'You shouldn't be wastin' your time with fucking phoneys like that. I've been thinking about you and I think you may well be the real thing!' It was a gambit to have a drink bought for him, but the two got talking and the friendship took off. Swift's love of Auden's verse — he knew quantities of it off by heart and loved reciting it — rekindled Kavanagh's enthusiasm for its contemporary images and idioms... While by no means blind to Kavanagh’s faults, Swift believed in his genius and indulged him and, since he was not an artistic rival, the older man did not feel threatened and came to lean on Swift as a beloved nephew...
...Despite the age gap between him and this group of twenty-somethings Kavanagh was adopted by them... Brendan Behan dubbed him 'the King of the kids'...
The young writers and painters he was meeting through Envoy tended to be European in their artistic and intellectual interests. The Irish writer they most respected was James Joyce... The young writer with whom Kavanagh was to maintain a very public feud unto the death was Brendan Behan (1932-64). At first there was no friction between them. Kavanagh looked on Behan primarily as a house painter who dabbled in literature... By the end of 1950 the enmity between the two writers was so bitter that it was difficult to credit they had ever been on friendly terms...
Since both men drank in McDaid's from 1950 onwards, relations rapidly turned sharply antagonistic. Between 1950 and 1953 Behan developed into an alcoholic... Behan, who was over twenty years Kavanagh's junior, initiated hostilities by telling him to his face in McDaid's the he was a failure. There was a great deal of sympathy for the poet because the taunt had a ring of truth to it; he had no regular employment other than his 'Diary' and was publishing very little poetry...
In conversation with Anthony Cronin, Kavanagh sometimes referred to his Envoy phase as a time of poetic rebirth...
...1956... Oonagh and Patrick Swift, who had been living in London since November 1952... were back in Dublin for the forthcoming birth of their first child. Kavanagh had stayed with the couple in London and was very taken with Oonagh. He insisted in squiring her to Waiting for Godot at the Pike Theatre...
Kavanagh and Swift had resumed the close friendship they had enjoyed in the Envoy years. When Katherine (Kate) Swift was born, the obstetrician was presented with a lithograph of the poet. Swift, brimming with ideas and intellectual activity as ever, was soon directing some of his energy into masterminding the more passive Kavanagh's career. Macmillan's rejection had left him very downcast...
Patrick Swift was invited to peruse the contents and decided that the poems should be published. He had to return to London in late February but persuaded Kavanagh to entrust the precious typescript to his brother, Jimmy, to have three copies professionally typed up... sent one copy each to David Wright and Martin Green in London and presented the third to the poet...
At this time the poet David Wright, a friend of Patrick Swift's whom Kavanagh had known since autumn 1952, was co-editor with Tristram Hull of Nimbus... Patrick Swift relayed his comments: 'I am incoherent with enthusiasm; he is not an Irish poet, he is the Irish poet. This is the goods. All my life I have been wrong about PK.'...
Kavanagh was quite proud of his new status as lecturer in the Extra-Mural Studies Department of University College Dublin. In the spring of 1956 he decided to publicise his role by giving a series of ten lectures... the audiences began to dwindle... There was a large crowd for a few weeks, then the numbers began to fall off. Before he went back to London in late February, Patrick Swift had asked his brother to attend the lectures and to bring others along, so that the series would not collapse...
Nimbus published 19 poems... Publication there was to prove the turning point... the publication of his next volume of verse, Come Dance with Kitty Stobling, was to be directly linked to the mini-collection in Nimbus, and his Collected Poems (1964)...
...October 1959... He stayed with Oonagh and Patrick Swift, who were renting the garden flat of 9 Westbourne Terrace, a large Victorian house where Elizabeth Smart and her children lived on the top floor... the flat at 9 Westbourne Terrace was itself a mini-Soho... Kavanagh felt better than he had in years. Writing about this visit to the Archbishop, he presented Leland Bardwell's and the Swift's flat, where tipsy writers talked into the small hours, as 'enclaves of enthusiasm and love which give physical as well as mental health'....
Patrick Swift and David Wright were launching a new journal, X, in late November; he had two poems, 'Living in the Country' and 'Lecture Hall', in the first number and one of his reasons for being in London was to share in the excitement of his friends' new venture...
When the Arts Council returned the typescript of The Forgiven Plough on 20 November, having decided against publication, it would only have confirmed Kavanagh's view that his future lay in London. He was back there for Christmas, his third visit in two months. Katherine was the magnet, of course, but with Leland Bardwell, Anthony Cronin, Elizabeth Smart, Patrick Swift, David Wright and an expanding circle of Soho writers and artists to fraternise with, he had nearly as many friends in London as in Dublin. 'A Summer Morning Walk' recalls his drinking binge that Christmas and the attendant hangovers in the 'Paddington crater' (the Swifts' basement flat at 9 Westbourne Terrace):
Lying on a bed in a basement, unable
To lift my sickness to a fable,
Hating the sight of a breakfast table.
On Christmas Day stretched out, how awful
Not heeding the Church's orders lawful
While everyone else is having a crawful.
It is black all round as terror stricken
I climb stone steps, trying not to weaken,
My legs are taking a terrible licking...
I was as sick as the devil's puke...
In a draft version of this poem, he makes his way to the George on Christmas Day to meet the blind poet John Heath-Stubbs and is joined by David Wright, George Barker and an unnamed Soho queer...
Much of 1960 was spent to-ing and fro-ing between Dublin and London... In London he generally stayed with the Swifts'...
— Antoinette Quinn, Patrick Kavanagh: A Biography, Gill & Macmillan, 2001
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...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
Elizabeth Smart — A Life
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
On the side of the angels
edited by Alice Van Wart
The Second Volume of the Journals of Elizabeth Smart
The fifties for Smart began an intensely social period. Until 1954... Smart had worked in London during the week... She now moved her family to London, in 1955 settling in 9 Westbourne Terrace. Her home soon became the centre for various writers and artists. For a while the Scottish poet W S (Sydney) Graham rented a room. George Barker continued to appear, though he spent more and more time in Italy. His relationship with Smart was now one of friendship. Poet David Wright was a familiar figure at Smart's, as were the two Scottish artists, Robert MacBryde and Robert Colquhoun, known as the Roberts, who were the children's nannies...
...in 1957, however, she managed to publish with her friend Oonagh Swift (who used the pseudonym Agnes Ryan) Cooking the French Way...
Smart's home at Westbourne Terrace became ever more popular during the sixties. The two Roberts remained. George Barker and David Wright came and went, as did poets David Gascoyne, Patrick Kavanagh, and artist Craigie Aitchison. Another artist Paddy Swift and his wife Oonagh lived in the basement of the same building...
— On the side of the angels, Elizabeth Smart, The Second Volume of the Journals of Elizabeth Smart, edited by Alice Van Wart, London, Harper-Collins, 1994
On many occasions through the early Sixties, writers and painters such as David Gascoyne, Paddy Kavanagh, Roberts MacBryde and Colquhoun and Paddy Swift would gather at Westbourne Terrace in Paddington, our family home at that time. They came for editorial discussions about their poetry magazine, X.
— Christopher Barker, Rhymes of passion, The Observer, Sunday 20 August 2006
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
On 19 July the Dublin-born painter PATRICK SWIFT died at his home in Portugal. He was 56. Among his closest friends — and the subjects of his best portraits — were a number of poets of his generation, and he was a familiar figure in the post-War 'Fitzrovia' circles that included David Wright, George Barker, Patrick Kavanagh and others. In 1959 he founded the magazine X with David Wright. Through X, Swift did for some of his younger contemporaries what David Wright was doing for the poets. He presented their work and attacked the fashions that stood in the way of a proper appreciation and valuation of the figurative work of some of them. In 1962 Swift left England for the Algarve. As well as collaborating in the establishment of Porches Pottery, he wrote books and continued his design work and painting. In his partnership with David Wright, this exemplary artist contributed substantially to the world of poetry.
— P.N. Review, News & Note, PN Review 34, Volume 10 Number 2, November - December 1983
For Patrick Swift
Patrick Swift, for whom I write
these long delayed lines in a night
given over to bad dreams and broken
images, I tender these words as token
to your green memory, if speech
like a homing pigeon can reach
you in the lightning shrouded, stark
and at last backyard of the dark.
I think it may, for there's a sense
in which the lost intelligence
illuminates and visits spheres
it neither knows, believes or hears
but like a bird tied at a stake
feels a flight it cannot make.
And so into six feet of ground
I have descended, and have found
and silently addressed the bone
that in turn speaks to my own.
Can you, Swift, like a flint spark
rise up from the gravelled dark
illuminating the vacuity
of non-existent eternity?
(The whistling whispering Swift would
if any could, if any could.)
I saw and heard his word walk over
water and wilderness, and uncover
mysteries that had long laid hid
under the spiritual pyramid.
I heard him charm the magical snake
down from its branch, and saw him take
ideals by the hand, and show
them how to peacock to and fro.
"The theology of the object: this
animates everything that is."
The brush that he held in his hand
sign and symbol, instrument and
artillery of his graphic will
performed, against all odds, as well
as that bright goldfishing diver
his tongue: both fished from the river
secrets only nature seemed
to know or the King Fisher dreamed.
The Dawn comes up as I write this
and in its own way this verse is
to thank Ireland for her gift
to us of the painter Patrick Swift:
for Kavanagh's honesty, Yeats
for the great images he creates,
for Synge. For MacNeice, for Joyce,
for Sam Beckett and all the warty boys
yes, let some decent praise be sung
And for Swift, the Golden Tongue.
- George Barker, 'For Patrick Swift', reproduced in PS...of course- Patrick Swift 1927-83, Gandon Editions, 1993
A LETTER IN VERSE
Patrick Kavanagh to Patrick Swift
Dear Paddy as George Barker does,
Letter in rhyme pleaseth us.
Here I am in old New York
With drinking as my daily work.
I see the Farrellys regular,
At present this is how they are:
John's right arm is paralysed
The radial nerve he was advised.
Dede is well and I'm sure the same
And nothing sorry that I came.
A year ago was Lecture Time
An orgy out of reality.
(To hell with rhyme)
It was something that had happened like a great
Love affair or an accident of fate
And we were involuntary players
At Olympian affairs.
Elizabeth Smart called
Much news of London she told
How you were raging
Over the bolloxy paging
In Nimbus. By the Lord Harry
George Barker is superior at this carry-
On in rhymed letter.
But I'll be better.
A defect in USA society
In the absence of that moiety
Of persons who can make the province
A Parnassian metropolis.
I hear that Cronin is engaged
On life of Joyce- good man himself.
I hope your Oonagh and the baby
Are doing fine. I'll soon be back
About May and I may go via London
By air and see you there.
New York floats on whiskey.
The Arts Council I hear
Are publishing the Lectures,
They are in print.
Of course they are not the actual script
Though my praise of Barker is in.
I called it the Forgiven Plough
From Blake's line, you know:
'The cut worm forgives the plough.'
The audience is the cut worm,
Cronin gave me the idea.
As I mentioned at the top of this page
No consecrated bishops of the Muse,
Are here to confer orders:
All look to London or to some vague otherwhere.
Swift had introduced Dede and John Farrelly, whom he befriended in Positano, to Kavanagh, and it was under Dede's patronage that Kavanagh made his trip to New York - Gandon Editions, 1993
Dedicatory Poem to Patrick Swift
by Brian Higgins
Two boys were playing on a lonely beach
The sea broke on the coast, they did not care,
They had left school together for a dare
And left the dusty things that schoolmen teach.
Were they too gay, too daring on the rocks,
Surely such boyish laughter was not forced?
Playboys too young to know what youth must cost
Too free to notice other peoples clocks.
And so they rollicked on the western strand
The sacred isles glowed lovely in the morning;
They did not hear the sullen God's command
Or the black priest throw down his monstrous warning.
They had cast out all law, their game was touch
Not tit for tat, the double-take of fools,
They knew the score but did not keep it much
And only curbed their zest with witty rules.
Lost in that morning I have proved with tears
Remembering how those boys were you and I
And found through study, toil and broken years
That truant morning and that perfect sky.
IMAGES FOR A PAINTER
by David Wright
I never imagined I
Should write your elegy.
I look out of the window
As you taught me to do.
All creation is grand.
Whatever is to hand
Deserves a line, praising
What is for being.
Thus at Westbourne Terrace
In long ago days
Brush in hand I'd see you
At your morning window
Transfer the thousand leaves
Of summer heavy trees
And delighting light
To another surface
Where they will not turn
With the turning season
But stay, and say
This is the mystery!
Or you would repeat
In pencil or in paint
The old stuffed pheasant too
That lived in your studio
Among jars of turps
With a visiting ghost,
Charles Baudelaire's photo.
All the eye lights on
There for delighting.
Or put it this way,
A thing of beauty
is joy perceived.
So you would give
Thanks for what is:
All art is praise.
Ah, those mornings
The roads we travelled!
I do not mean
Only in Portugal-
Though now recalling
How, somewhere near
The river Guardiana
Going to Alcoutim,
We stopped the car
For, winding down
Round hills and bare,
Over no road came
The muleback riders
And blackshawled women
On foot, following
A coffin to nowhere:
-Each of us unique-
Your head suddenly
Thrown back, oblique
Eye over the laughter:
An aslant look
As if to say
Did the joke carry? The
Over the joke?
I see now
Out of my window
Mist rising from
A leaden Eden
Under trees barely
Leaved to the ford.
Gentle and aloud
The water breaks
As white as bread
Over the under road.
On the far bank
A field with trees
Each standing naked
On a fallen dress,
Brown and gold leaves.
I might relate
How Swift my friend
Has gone, like these!
But I will not.
No cause for sadness,
You reader of Aquinas
And clear Horace.
Whom the gods love, die
Young but not easily.
For Patrick Swift
by C.H. Sisson
The dishes are untouched
And yet I see them all
Spread out under the moon.
Quiet which nothing spoils,
Not even appetite,
Hung on the point of wish.
Milk-white, with ruddy fruit
Only the angry heart
Is mean enough to ask.
Ice in the silver night
With the bird voices held
In silver cups, tonight.
LINES FOR A PAINTER
To Patrick Swift
The tree grew under your hand one day,
So many shades of green growing over the white
Canvas, as through the actual leaves outside the window
And through the open window onto the canvas fell the light.
And I sat on the bed trying unsuccessfully to write,
Envying you the union of the painter's mind and hand,
The contact of brush with canvas, the physical communion,
The external identity of the object and the painting you had planned;
For among the shards of memory nothing that day would grow
Of its own accord,
And I thought I could never see, as you saw the tree on the canvas,
One draughtsman's word.
Only inside the mind,
In the rubble of thought,
Were the pro-and-con, prose-growing, all too argumentative
Poems I sought.
Whereas there in Camden Town
In the petrol fumes and gold of a London summer was the tree you drew,
As you might find anywhere, inside or outside the studio, something
Which was itself, not you.
Well envying I have said,
But the evening as we walked
Through the cooling twilight down
To the pub and talked
I saw what in truth I had envied-
Not in fact
That you were released from any obligation,
Or that the act
Of painting was less or more objective
Than thinking the word-
But that, like poems, your painting
Was of course the reward
Of the true self yielding to appearances
Outside its power
While still in the dominion of love asseverating
Its absolute hour.
TO PATRICK SWIFT
by John Jordan
This letter may explain better
than words of the mouth,
words, words, words,
that soothed our drought
through rain and stars,
the mockery of dawn,
we cold as the trees.
For you must keep in mind
that we are less than kin,
but more than kind, for
While you were ranting your lyceum lines
careering the vaults of your glittering dooms,
bleeding at the heart from paper knives-
I have my nuances and Chekhovian glooms-
But we were both mummers, and so we got on.
mine was a mime of lime-scent and heart-break
quiet, frail, imbecile, thirsty for applause-
and O you knew that and nurtured me, because-
Thespis's children stick together
in sunlight and shower and weather
when the proud rose must surely fall,
thrown on a dump with all the rest of the trappings,
the split gold tights
the ragged brocade gown
the mothy ermine choker
the sweet tinsel crown
and our cascades of pasten jewels,
bright as tears,
worthless as tears,
Yes, mine was a mime of lime-scent and quiet heart
yours one of cypresses, and blood on the snow
but we both were mummers and didn't care to know,
to pick away the paint,
to clutch the hand lovingly
around the white skull.
Skull last seen at the dead of night
or glimpsed at waking in the submarine light,
skull precious ivory,
to be kissed and touched tenderly...
As you may have noticed
the games are done
and I for one, my friend, am very tired.
I must confess, too, I find it hard
not to have regrets,
for years spent in plays
so unworthy of our talents.
It will be difficult to adapt ourselves to
ordinary life. And of course we'll always be
peculiar, rearing the head, pouting the
lips, stancing the body, when a stranger
comes into the room. You know that as well
as I do.
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
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
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
Brian Fallon - Aidan Dunne - Derek Hill - Brendan Behan - Lucian Freud - Patrick Kavanagh - Elizabeth Smart - Further Quotes About