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Newly Minted Work by a Change Artist

  • May 31, 2020

Mr. Swing’s best friend, the artist John Carter, who met him in 1986 when they were both attending the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture’s summer residency program, said there was always been an element of risk-taking in Mr. Swing’s work. “When we first started making things, it was like, cut stuff out, never grind it, slap some Bondo on it, throw paint at it — sort of like Jackson Pollock in three dimensions,” he said. “Now it’s like some German engineer took control of his head and process.” Mr. Carter recounted bumping into a fellow Skowhegan graduate, Judy Pfaff, at a party about a year ago. She jokingly remarked, “Whoever thought Johnny Swing would become so refined?”

Mr. Swing’s work was already finding its way into significant private and institutional collections in 2009, when Sotheby’s sold a Nickel couch from the estate of the designer Robert Isabell for $104,500, smashing the $20,000 high estimate. (His current auction record stands at $155,000.)

James Zemaitis, who directed the sale at Sotheby’s and is now R Company’s director of museum relations, said, “As beloved as Johnny’s coin pieces are, the reality is that his talent is as a metalsmith. You can put him in the American studio furniture pantheon as a sort of successor to Albert Paley and Paul Evans.”

According to Mr. Zemaitis, R Company encouraged Mr. Swing to push beyond the “literal representation of money” and focus even more on “the beauty of his sculptural forms.” In making his new nesting pieces, Mr. Swing decided to take a different approach to the coins (which he obtains from banks, weeding out any that are too dirty or scratched). Now, after the coins are cleaned, he runs them through a machine that flattens, distorts and blurs them so that they are less immediately recognizable as currency.

“The material being abstracted may actually bring the work up a notch,” Mr. Swing said. “The coins are now almost more beautiful as objects. Each shape is independently dynamic, and I’m making them more my own. They’re also a bit more mysterious — there will be some really beautiful ghostlike images when they’re polished.” And that, he hopes, will give them a new bit of magic.

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