Anthony Cronin

The Dublin Years
Anthony Cronin

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, Patrick Swift 1927-83, 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


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.


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