38 year old Essex boy Tom Swift is an awkward genius. The 6’2” eligible bachelor (taller, in his straw trilby) can’t stop working. His latest work is blurring the boundaries between painting, being a snotty punk, carrying out random acts of performance art, and writing poetry.
Based in the downtown side of British seaside town Margate, he’s been involved in making music, making paintings and breaking rules since he was a child.
His home life was hardly ordinary; Londoner Tom (born in 1969) is the son of legendary session drummer Hazelton Swift. As a teenager, dockyard worker Hazelton met calypsonian Lord Kitchener as he disembarked from the SS Empire Windrush when it docked at Tilbury and joined his band a week later. So Tom was surrounded by music and musicians, bohemians and beat poets from an early age.
Oddly though, it was only in his mid-30s that Tom took up music himself; he has taught himself to play guitar and drums, recorded three albums (as yet unreleased, while two well-known labels squabble over an advance), and plays with an arthouse jazz band.
But music stardom aside, it is, of course, for his painting that 191cm-tall Tom is known, after recent London exhibitions at Art 14 and A Fete Worse Than Death. Tom’s manic brushwork means he can produce a hundred paintings in a day. His energy has become as important as the finished work; at Art 14, Tom’s work sold out in the first hour, so he transformed his stand into an ad-hoc studio and he produced new paintings in the space, covering the walls and selling as he went. Three very well-known dealers (one of them, actually an art dealer) and a pop star left with his work on paper rolled up.
For A Fete Worse Than Death, Tom and artist Paul Hazelton got a gang together. Meeting in an ice cream parlour in Tom’s hometown of Ramsgate (out of the eyes of Margate’s art cognoscenti) the boys (and one girl) planned one perfect job, never to be repeated. De-In-Stall was a collaboration between Tom and Paul, pop music video director Simon Williams, artist Steve McPherson, colour poet Emrys Plant, musician Steve Graham, and seamstress Beth Anderson. They ended up being joined by the ice cream shop owner, a reclusive ex-millionaire called Caspar (who once owned Gillingham Town FC), who dispensed advice to visitors. De-In-Stall created a gambling den, self-help centre, music hall comedy show and contemporary gallery space in a market stall on London’s Rivington Street.
Having pledged to make one perfect album and split up, the De-In-Stall band of brothers (and one sister) will reunite with some special guests when the one-off event will be repeated as different line-ups of De-In-Stall come to the Herrick Gallery, No 18 Gallery and the Art Car Boot.
Unifying all his projects, by working with brushes, typewriters and pieces of found timber, Tom (who wears stacked heels to increase his height) creates work that’s distinctively his. Rambling sequences of hybrid drawing-painting-poems which reference architecture, shopfronts and the grid layouts of magazine pages show that Tom is in love with the modern world, modern girls and modern rock & roll. Tom, who models his look on 80s icon Roland Rat, is never seen without his baseball cap on and always wears Converse All-Stars.
Don’t look for him at home; he’ll be out in the moonlight, looking for factories, neon lights and auto-signs. While he’s out, steal his art; it’s a good investment, and you’ll make a profit in five years.