(Australia 1974– )
108.0 x 184.0 x 118.0cm (irreg.)
In ‘Killing time’ Ricky Swallow has synthesised his interests in time passing, personal and collective memory, everyday experiences and the history of art. Swallow’s earlier sculptures were often carefully crafted duplicates of recently retro items, such as beatboxes and BMX bikes, or reworked record turntables with scaled-down narrative scenarios that blend science fiction and scientific fact. More recently he has made carvings of the animate and inanimate conceived and realised at a ratio of 1:1. ‘Killing time’ is the most ambitious work that Swallow has made to date and is likely to remain so for some time due to the onerous and time-consuming physical task of working in such detail on this scale. It was the centrepiece of Swallow’s solo exhibition at the Australian Pavilion in the 2005 Venice Biennale.
While ‘Killing time’ visually recalls 17th-century Dutch still-life painting and even the work of such a virtuoso illusionist woodcarver as Grinling Gibbons, the subject matter is derived from Swallow’s personal experience. The son of a fisherman, he has faithfully depicted every sea creature that he recalls capturing, killing and eating during his life. The various fish, lobsters, oysters, crabs and others are displayed on a table which duplicates the table around which Swallow’s family ate dinner. While ‘Killing time’ uses the visual language of a particular genre of painting and wood-carving, it is also an intensely personal act of remembering; it is another ‘evaporated self-portrait’ as Swallow has described his sculptures, which call on specific personal memories while also having a commonly recognisable subject matter.
‘Killing time’ is carved mainly from laminated jelutong, a pale coloured hardwood used commercially for prototypes and pattern-making but also by woodworking hobbyists for whittling. The illusionism of the sculpture is emphasised by the attention to detail in the lobster, the lemon peel that hangs over the edge of the table and the rippling folds of the tablecloth pushed to one end. However the monochromatic timber and the dramatic side-lighting, devised by Swallow to create strong shadows and highlights, point to the inherent unreality of transcribing animate form into inanimate materials. There is a loop of commemoration and death that permeates this work, both in the references to the still-life genre and in the fact that the sculptor killed these creatures in the first place, long before carving this de facto memorial. In the 17th century, vanitas still-life paintings portrayed the abundance of natural life and worldly goods to celebrate this abundance while pointing to the fact that it was only transient, just as life itself is. The title ‘Killing time’ refers to this sense of life stilled in art, to the act of remembering and recording something from the artist’s past, and to the time spent on carving this labour-intensive sculpture.
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
‘Killing time in the house of Martha and Mary’ by Andrew Yip, pg. 18-19., Look Aug 2012, Aug 2012, 18 (colour illus., detail), 19 (colour illus.).
Alex Baker (Author), Michael Ned Holte, Ricky Swallow: the bricoleur, 2009, 42-43 (colour illus.).
Anthony Bond (England; Australia) (Commissioning Editor), Wayne Tunnicliffe (New Zealand; Australia) (Commissioning Editor), Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 2006, 418-9 (colour illus.). illustration on pg.419 is a detail
Susan McCulloch (England; Australia, b.1949) (Author), Alan McCulloch (Australia, b.1907, d.1992) (Author), Emily McCulloch Childs (Australia, b.1976) (Author), The new McCulloch's encyclopedia of Australian art, Carlton, 2006, 931 (colour illus.).
'Panem et circenses: Ricky Swallow in Venice' by Klaus Biesenbach, pg.572-9, Art and Australia (Vol. 42, No. 4) Jun 2005-Aug 2005, Jun 2005-Aug 2005, 572-3 (colour illus.), 579. illustration is a detail
'Exciting new purchase' by Wayne Tunnicliffe, pg.33, Look Dec 2004-Jan 2005, Dec 2004-Jan 2005, 33 (colour illus.). illustrations are details
'Personal history' interview by Pilar Arevalo, pg.52-55, Oyster Apr 2004-May 2004, Apr 2004-May 2004, 53-55 (colour illus.). illustrations on pages 53 and 54 are details
'Enticing feast for the eyes' by Anne Loxley, The Sydney Morning Herald 09 Mar 2004, 09 Mar 2004, (colour illus.). illustration is a detail
'Behold the man' by Peter Hill, pg.9, The Sydney Morning Herald 06 Mar 2004-07 Mar 2004, 06 Mar 2004-07 Mar 2004, 9 (colour illus.). Spectrum section
Justin Paton (Australia), Ricky Swallow - Killing Time, 2004, (colour illus.).
Killing Time, Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney, 24 Feb 2004–20 Mar 2004.
Killing Time, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, 02 Apr 2004–01 May 2004.
This time another year: Venice Biennale 2005, Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 12 Jun 2005–06 Nov 2005.
Ricky Swallow, P.S.1, 19 Jan 2006–20 Mar 2006.
Ricky Swallow: The Bricoleur, Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 15 Oct 2009–28 Feb 2010.
21st Century: Art in the First Decade, Queensland Art Gallery, 18 Dec 2010–26 Apr 2011.