Killing Time, 2003-04. Jelutong and maple, 108 x 184 x 118 cm.

Contemporary Still Life: A Conversation with Ricky Swallow

There’s nothing expedient about Ricky Swallow’s work. For his wood carvings, he uses Japanese tools that require continual sharpening as he “gains information by removing material” from large pieces of jelutong, the Malay hardwood he favors. Initially interested in commodity “fossils” like cassette players, metal detectors, BMX bikes, ghetto-blasters, and Apple computers, Swallow re-created faded icons in minute detail, resuscitating them and placing them in a new light. His sculptures—whether in wood, resin, or cardboard—are stripped of color, their monotone, matte surfaces devoid of “marketability.” Exhibited in isolation under dramatic lighting, sometimes in glass cases, the works are removed from their intended contexts and become signposts of our cultural ethos.