Good Weekend Art Column

Ron Robertson-Swann – Australian Galleries, Sydney

Published September 15, 2020
Ron Robertson-Swann, 'Helios' (2019)

Artist: Ron Robertson-Swann

Lives: Botany, Sydney.

Age: 78

Represented by: Australian Galleries, Sydney (Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne)

His thing: Elegant abstractions in the form of metal sculptures and vividly coloured paintings

Our take. Ron Robertson-Swann has been at the forefront of Australian sculpture for almost 50 years. He was one of the youngest artists included in the National Gallery of Victoria’s landmark show of abstract art, The Field, in 1968, and is now one of the few survivors.

Had he spent his career in the United States, Robertson-Swann would be living in a gigantic mansion bossing around a team of assistants, but in Australia a senior artist’s expectations are far more modest. Robertson-Swann’s prices have never been stratospheric, nor his reputation as high as it might be. This is partly due to the years he spent as a teacher, and partly because of his distaste for the vulgar careerism of the art world.

In his show, A Different Perspective, at Australian Galleries, Robertson-Swann is revealed as an artist of remarkable consistency – a perfectionist who cares deeply about the way his works are finished and presented. As an abstractionist he has classical inclinations, being preoccupied with balancing forms within a composition. His paintings are more expressive, but still make liberal use of the ruler and set square. None of these pieces are intended to ‘mean’ anything beyond the fact of their own suggestive, poetic presence in the world. “I just want my art to surprise and delight,” he writes.

In this ‘his & hers’ event, Robertson-Swann is exhibiting alongside his spouse, Ayako Saito, an abstract sculptor whose star is on the rise. Her show is called Forging Light and Space.


Can I afford it?

The most expensive work in this exhibition is the steel sculpture, Helios (196cm by 109cm by 103.5cm) at $145,000. For an artist of Robertson-Swann’s seniority, this is a very modest ask. His record price is $500,000 for a commissioned work. The cheapest piece is the small sculpture, Pirouette (9cm by 22.5cm by 13cm), for a derisory $7,500.


Where can I have a squiz?

Australian Galleries, 15 Roylston St. Paddington, Sydney.

Until 29 October – 17 November, 2020.


Published in The Good Weekend, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 November, 2019