The days aren’t different enough nos 1–4, 2009–10, is a group of four bronze casts of cardboard archery targets found by Ricky Swallow in a public park near his home in Los Angeles. They are small-scale, intimate works, each with a unique surface texture that directly mirrors the topography of the respective ‘real’ object from which each is cast. Textures vary in accordance with the clustering of penetration marks of the archer’s arrows as well the nature of the cardboard itself – creases, corrugation, corner damage, paper labels attached to the original surface, and so forth. Swallow has directed artisans to develop a unique patina for each of the targets, varying in chromatic intensity from gunmetal grey to reddish brown tints.
The bronze targets mark an interesting departure from what we often associate with Swallow’s work: painstakingly handmade sculptures that reflect the skill of the individual artist working alone in his studio. The targets in many ways are radically different, as his hand is entirely absent from the work (the bronzing and patination are undertaken by professional artisans, not the artist, although Swallow indeed oversees these processes). Swallow’s iconic wooden sculptures may be exacting replicas of everyday objects, but never have they embraced the idea of the readymade to this extent, that is, the Dumchampian notion that non-art objects can be transformed into art by the simple gesture of their exhibition. Swallow, unlike other found-object artists, however, continues to believe in filtering the readymade through an additional step: bronze casting. Thus Swallow’s targets, like his wooden sculptures, still reflect a certain traditionalism as both carving and bronze casting are in tune more with practices from the annals of art history rather than contemporary practice.
As Swallow has explained: ‘I like [the targets] because they are made by incident rather than purpose, which is so opposite to what I do in the studio. Yet they are produced with this traditional, even romantic practice of archery in an attempt for the individual to better their skill. So, they are records of this anonymous endeavour made plastic.’ (Quoted in Michael Ned Holte, ‘The grit in the oyster’, in Ricky Swallow: The Bricoleur, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2009, p. 32.)
The targets also mark a new direction for Swallow in that they are wall-based works, more two-dimensional than sculptural. Rectangular and wall-bound, they occupy the space of a painting. Resembling the torn and punctured canvases of Luciano Fontana paintings (the NGV has an iconic Fontana, Spatial concept, 1964–65, in its collection), the bronze targets also have a minimalist sensibility evoking the look of a desecrated monochrome painting.
Ricky Swallow graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 1997. While he continues to make and exhibit drawings, especially watercolours, Swallow is best known for his three-dimensional work carved in wood and plaster and cast from bronze. His sculptures draw on a range of themes and sources including the still-life tradition, the passage of time, music, and an undergirding belief in how the mundane can be profound.
The days aren’t different enough nos 1–4 join several important works by Swallow in the NGV collection, including, among others, One nation underground, 2007; Turtle shell (blanket), 1996; Model for a sunken monument, 1999; Salad days, 2005; and several watercolour drawings recently gifted to the NGV.
Alex Baker, Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2011).