Richmond Art Society Featured Artist – Peter Swann
I was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Surrey and in 1980 went to boarding school in Somerset. I showed promise in art, woodwork, metalwork and photography but I was also a competent linguist and was encouraged to follow an academic path. I went on to Durham University and graduated in 1990 with a degree in Spanish.
In 1991 I moved to London and did some random jobs before realising that I needed to do something creative. In 1993 I trained as a chef and worked briefly in some of London’s top restaurants, but concluded that this was an unsustainable career choice and would likely lead to an early grave! There followed much soul-searching before I enrolled to study Engineering Product Design at South Bank University.
Drawing was an important part of the course and I enthusiastically developed my skills in sketch work, marker rendering and technical drawing. I also began painting in my spare time. After four years of studying by day and cooking in a restaurant by night I graduated for the second time in 1998.
From 1998 until 2014 I enjoyed a career in engineering, working with all kinds of industrial technology. In 2001 I joined MERU, a charity which makes special equipment for disabled children. My most important project was the design of Bugzi, an electric wheelchair for pre-school children. It won several awards and has enabled hundreds of children to become mobile: www.meru.org.uk/what-we-do/bugzi
By 2014 my role had become largely administrative. I wanted to do something creative again, and had been obsessed with painting for 20 years. I was fortunate enough to be able to leave my job and work from a studio at home. That same year I joined the Richmond Art Society to get involved with the local art scene, little suspecting that 3 years later I would become the chairman!
Not long after I first started painting I read about egg tempera. I was attracted by the idea of making paint from simple, natural materials – egg yolk, water, coloured dirt. I found natural raw linen the most sympathetic support (an unconventional choice) and now “egg tempera on linen” is the only medium I use. It very much determines what kind of paintings I do. It suits some styles and subjects better than others (I’ve tried quite a few!).
I spent a long time focusing on abstract work, Often inspired by Paul Klee. Lately I find that portraits, figures and animals can be successful and I’m lucky enough to have been busy with portrait commissions for the past year. Raw linen is such a beautiful material that I leave a lot of it unpainted so that my subjects seem to emerge from it, or fade into it. I hope this conveys the idea of impermanence – that we are all made of dust, and return to dust, and dwell in this form for so little time. (Ironically egg tempera is the most durable of all painting media).
The process of creation and destruction is simultaneously miraculous and tragic. The process of taking raw materials, transforming them into images (and often destroying them) is like an ongoing rehearsal for this drama of living and dying.