“Tips on how to enter my room properly: 1. do not” is written on a piece of paper pinned on a door – a scene reminiscent of our childhood when we did not want our parents to come into our room. In Mike Swaney’s painting Sun 2.0 the door is cut by the frame, which makes it appear open. A face, painted in a sunny orange color, looks into the room, which is being reflected in the window. Inside the room we see a person sitting at a desk, holding a pen in their hand. The person seems to have numerous ideas that need to be drawn immediately on a sheet of paper. Depicted as an abstract crown, the ideas are represented by little light bulbs surrounding the person’s head. Next to the desk there is a shelf packed with books. One can read almost every single title of the books: Dubuffet, Prinzhorn, Nature, Kids Art, African Art, Black Hawk, Jamaica, Subway Art, Gees Bend and Art Brut.
While looking at Mike Swaney’s Œuvre, each title creates an association in the viewer’s mind. The obvious booklore of the artist reveals itself in his approach to painting. Both the topic of the work and the way the artist‘s technique of painting, seems to appropriate the way children paint. By taking a closer look at the forms, one can recognize a familiar artistic language. It reminds us of the drawing pattern of children: almost any perspective, only mere suggestions of three-dimensionality, and commonly perceived as wrongly executed by adults. At the same time, this familiarity is confusing, since we are looking at the work of an adult. By evoking both familiar and strange feelings, Swaney focuses our attention on the ambiguity of the human character.
This specific phenomenon can be witnessed in the painting Lap on lap as well. Again, seeing a door being cut by the frame, we are entering another room. As implied by the title, five figures are sitting on the lap of another person. Dressed in strange costumes and hats, their faces with round big noses look clown-like. The grotesque pose and the visual appearance of the figures create a strange inappropriateness. While it is normal to have children sit on one’s lap, it becomes obscene when adults take this role.
This painting draws attention to another fundamental aspect that is central to Swaney’s artistic approach, namely the repetition of forms and patterns. While the five figures sitting on each other’s lap decrease in size from left to right, their shape does not change except for a few minor variations. In Swaney’s painting Face2Face2 the process of repetition is taken to the extreme by the use of the mise-en-abyme effect. A teddy bear-like figure is repeated seven times in itself. Again, we are well aware of the joyful playing, experimenting with recurring patterns.