Barbara Swan

At the Mirski Gallery

People who regard the University as a bastion of visual philistmism may be pleased to learn that Barbara Swan, for the past two years an Associate Scholar at the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, has opened a one woman show at Boston's leading gallery.

Miss Swan's drawings, paintings and lithographs can hardly be called cheerful. Many of her oils have a haunted, melancholy quality that she manages to combine with harsh coloring and still retain a certain grace and softness.

Musicians are a favorite motif. Her "Music Makers" shows a bald, pensive man resting his head on his hands and facing a woman, apparently depressed, who plays a flute. In the background, a girl with an expression of acute misery on her face plays another flute and a second girl stands with her hand covering her lower face. As in most of the paintings, reds and oranges abound and pale but acid greens and yellows dominate the faces. The group may very well be a family.

Indeed the family is a second of Mirski's favorite themes. Young children and protective fathers appear repeatedly. In one such scene, "Father and Children," a father holds one child on his shoulder and hugs a second to his chest. The vertically flowing streaks that Miss Swan uses so frequently run behind the figures in the form of thin, wavering lines.

Occasionally the background verticals swirl to reinforce the contours of a figure or group, as in the "Music Makers" and the "Musicians," a variation on the same theme. Four figures, two of them flute players, appear again in the "Musicians," but his time all of them are women. Blue becomes the major color. The desperation has disappeared; a sense of calm prevails.


Her family scenes and her haunted faces appear to be direct opposites. The former produce a strong impression of personal security, while the latter represent people who seem alone and at odds with the world. Miss Swan herself might disagree with this. The musical scenes, which contain perhaps her most haunted faces, are purportedly attempts to "show the interaction of musician and listener." If this is true, the music must at least be in a minor key.