"Finding new shapes is like finding new riffs in rock ‘n’ roll. It can’t be done because it’s all been done already. Anyone wishing to discover new form is afforded the same post-modern constraints as someone writing new chord changes: sure, go ahead, but it’ll all sound like Zeppelin. And yet, sitting in a piece of furniture created by Johnny Swing, you realize that the song doesn’t always remain the same. Instead, what you are struck with, is that new shapes feel as good as they look. Swing’s structures are new truths: filling the material void and aesthetic monotony.
Simulating real objects, such as a couch, with materials that, before, held a different function, is at the heart of this artist’s bent. The self-proclaimed “junk rat” uses glass jars, a footrest on a dentist’s chair, coinage and car windshields to make chairs, couches, lounges and things that you can’t quite name. In design, or in Swing’s world of design, this simulation is known as repurposing: taking something that was, and making it into something different that is. Such visual cannibalism is a philosophy extrapolated from the artist Marcel Duchamp and the topsy-turvy rationale of pop-aesthete Andy Warhol, whose declaration that "art is everything" has perfectly imprinted itself on this artist’s work. For Swing, it’s a balancing act of function versus non-function. The trick is to make opposites attract.
His recent works have engineered an evolution of new forms. In his lighting, Swing has looked to that life force in the sky and followed. His love of circles has given rise, literally, to their grouping, electrifying them, making earthly constellations suspended by jet pylons that are torqued like some funhouse reflection. As singular pieces, these Luminaire engender a sensual surge. Curvy, black, sleek and towering, their presence like a fetishistic fantasy is intrinsic to Swing’s mantra, which is when you’re sitting in, or standing around, one of his creations, they should take you someplace else. And they do.
If Swing has mastered the art of repurposing, then the nature of what he does has itself become repurposed. Sculpting function has morphed into making art. In a sense it’s function deconstructed. Undressed to the point where the piece shows only its visual appeal and nothing else, Swing’s large scale sculptures are the raw impulse, the basic instinct that yields these DNA forms. In his quest to make visual inspiration, the twisting, braiding metal frays into a multitude of new directions, much like the artist’s roving sensibility.
“I want to make shapes that aren’t derivative,” says Swing sitting down at the end of his nickel couch. The metal blob radiates against the wall like a steel dolphin. It’s pleasing to the eye. You’d expect the couch to be as hard as a park bench, but what appears unyielding and cold nestles its occupant, causing a glee to come from its tactile texture. This piece is good enough to pet.
There is an element of bad behavior to anyone disturbing the natural order. For bringing fire to man, Prometheus was chained to a rock and his liver shredded for eternity. Faust had to hand over his soul for his foray into the abnormal. And we all know the fate of Dr. Jekyll? For Swing, turning jars into chairs and car windshields into tables, such penalties are doubtful. The student who attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and whose professor said that were Swing to have designed the Egyptian pyramids they’d be standing on their points, there’s an enormous privilege to making things. “Yes, there are new shapes to be made,” says Swing. “I have made new shapes…compound complex shapes.” The artist runs the flat of his hand over the silver dophin that could be skate park mogul, or the hips of a big curvaceous robot, and smiles."
-Michael Persson, Providence, 2006