Dublin 1950s

Patrick Swift
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


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.

Spoiled romantic
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."

Decisive Views
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."

Dublin Only
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


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


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

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

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

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

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