Exhibition Text, written and presented by Michael Buhrs, Director, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich
Duncan Swann's painting shows people, sometimes in portrait, sometimes the full figure, sometimes reduced in scale and in rows or arrays, ordered like figures in a museum display case. For his images Swann uses photographic source material that appears, almost unaltered, painted on the canvas. In his choice of figures Swann talks of 'selection' - figures are selected from the array on the basis of criteria that are unknown to us, and which, perhaps through a moment of chance, exercise a form of power that extends beyond our control. Once his figures have been painted onto the canvas, Swann begins a game of rendering the obvious ambiguous. Swann makes marks directly on the bodies and faces of his figures, plays with the space within which they exist, adds fictitious numbering like in a form of index, sometimes isolating his protagonists by completely dissolving the space around them. At the conclusion of this process, the human figure is removed from our direct gaze, hidden beneath something, sometimes in the form of a mask, sometimes manifesting as a veil beneath multiple layers of paint. What is always readable is the application of paint, the brushstroke, at times strong and dominant, at others, glazed and washed expanses of canvas.
A series of questions arise from this objective description of the work: what significance does the portrayal of a human figure have in Duncan Swann's work? Is it a concrete surrogate for the original or more a general referent? Is it Mankind, or that which is human? Swann's paintings show constellations that have a timeless quality, as if they'd always been there, which may be why one feels reminded of something. But what? One inevitably looks for stored memories, but then there are these veils, gentle disruptions that one would like to look beneath.
Duncan Swann's paintings aren't mirrors in which the Other might be discovered. They are tunnels - of time, of memory through which we might recognise ourselves in others. Are we the figure in the index? Which masks do we wear in order to protect ourselves from the Other, or do we hide from ourselves? The Other as part of our identity - perhaps this is how the game might be called that Duncan Swann brings us by way of his 'personnel'. How fitting that the word 'person', in its original Latin meaning, meant the 'actor's mask', containing multiple identities within themselves.