The oeuvre of conceptual artist Titus Swart (°1958, lives and works in Amsterdam) is nourished by wonder and emotion at the timeless beauty of unspoilt landscapes. Taking its point of departure in the rough way that people treat the earth and its disastrous consequences, the oeuvre of Titus Swart offers a counterweight. By creating his own fictive reality, the artist places the beauty, simplicity and calm of our planet in the foreground. Swart’s work is free of anecdote, living souls or human traces. It is a positive antidote to the present climate change in which the oceans are becoming acidified, the biosphere is breaking up and biodiversity is declining. As he walks, Titus Swart reads nature by looking carefully and collecting material such as reed cigars, sandstone, twigs, grasses, roots and pieces of bark. Fascinated by the mathematical basis of nature, he wants to translate this wonderful logic visually. The artist proceeds systematically. He transforms the found material into ‘objects’ by carefully arranging, drying and abstracting everything before painstakingly presenting it (enlarged or not) in stylish passe-partouts or perspex/glass mounts. Swart is always a full-blooded aesthete. Besides objects, Titus Swart also works with a gigantic archive of photographic material that he has compiled over the last decades. His photographs take us past views of calm waters, hill ridges and mountain flanks. Impressive skies and horizons stand out. Swart also takes us to serenely recorded details of treetops and barks, rock formations and expanses of sand. He is a master in visualising the materiality, texture, play of lines and form of these natural features. Titus Swart documents specific locations in different seasons and weather conditions. Sometimes he presents a whole day in the life of the same place, a technique that he first applied in Iceland. The artist has no qualms about photographing different locations at the same moment in time and showing them side by side. Witness his photos of the Waddenzee and the IJsselmeer, both taken by rotating the camera through 180° on the Afsluitdijk. Or the IJsselmeer and the Markermeer as seen from the Houtribdijk. Titus Swart works in a coherent fashion. He likes to juxtapose two, three, four or even five images. Then the imagination starts to combine them. The image on the left alters the way you view the one on the right, and vice versa. Like the juxtaposition of shots of sandstructures that all look completely different due to wind erosion. Or the combination of black-and-white prints of treetops next to shots of pieces of coloured bark; or combinations of found footage and his own photographic material of landscapes charged with history. The combinations of (marine) landscapes are remarkable in which the horizons flow seamlessly into one another, conferring unprecedented proportions on the imposing view. One photo looks more menacing because of the clouds racing overhead, while another shows a more peaceful, sun-bathed variant. In his later work Swart explores the effects of clashes and repetitions of different horizons. The presence of the horizon is in a certain sense anchored in the cultural tradition of the Netherlands. From seventeenth-century painting to Piet Mondrian’s attempts to free himself from the line of the horizon by means of his abstract geometric language of forms. Titus Swart makes us look at landscapes in a different way. His work lifts us out of the everyday. It is a statement in humility. Meditative, consoling and detached.
Sofie Crabbé (art and photo historian, reviewer, curator) —