Woman on Swing exemplifies the unique approach to painting that Richard Artschwager developed in the 1960s, transposing a found photograph onto the tactile surface of celotex. Artschwager is known for his consistent attack on the conventions of art since 1960s, through a heterogeneous body of work that employs unlikely materials such as formica and celotex. The use of a found image relates Artschwager to the currents of Pop that were dominant at the time, yet he transforms the image of an anonymous smiling subject into a distinctly enigmatic work.
Artschwager was inspired to incorporate found photographs in his work in 1961, when he came across an image of people on the beach. He realized, "They would live their lives and they would be dead someday. I thought it would be good to paint them as they were, without satire, and made a fairly large canvas, gridding off the photo and following it pretty closely. It was a romantic idea, rooted in lonely voyeurism" (R. Artschwager quoted in Artschwager, Richard, exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1988, p. 18). In Germany, Gerhard Richter would commence his influential series of paintings made after found black and white photographs the year after Artschwager. Richter projected his images onto the canvas, blurring them to impart a sense of uncertainty and the distance of time. Artschwager also exploited the familiar yet ambiguous qualities of found photography, yet did so by using a grisaille palette of paint on the complex surface of celotex, whose uneven ridges refract the image across the surface and disperse any certainties in terms of both material and meaning.
Artschwager's signature use of celotex dates to 1962, when he saw Franz Kline painting on the roughly textured material. Made of dried sugarcane fibers pressed into a stiff mat, it is a sort of magnified version of paper, and is also used in inexpensive house construction. Artschwager explains, "For me it has been sometimes a useful art material in that it liberates drawing from the hand-held and allows it to move into a space more commonly occupied by (canvas) paintings. It keeps the intimacy because of its paper-like characteristics, but allows it to operate at a greater physical, thereby mental, distance because of its magnified coarseness" (R. Artshwager, "A Note on Celotex," Connections: Richard Artschwager, Boston, 1992, n.p.).