Shane Thomas Swift, better known as Swift Death Club, is an incredibly prolific painter and occasional tattoo artist – creating works that speak to an unseen and wondrous landscape that’s informed as much by 1980’s erotica as it is architecture. Here, Shane speaks to his relationship to the contemporary world of tattooing, how he doesn’t want to ever “hit the mark” with his work and how Colour Vision Deficiency has informed his ongoing love affair with black ink.
Can you speak to your relationship with creativity?
I’ve always been attracted to the idea of a creative life. Since I was young, I can’t recall wanting to be involved with anything else. Other kids would play sports or whatever, and I’d want to stay in and draw. I’ve been drawing forever, but only started applying myself after high school – basically when I had to start making my own money. I was lucky enough to have a gallery show early on, and that was the first time I thought I might be able to do this for a living.
Your paintings exist so confidently in the air of this imagined, female-ruled vista. What would you say is the “red thread” running through your work?
I like that, “female-ruled vista”. That’s a pretty good description of my work. To sum it all together, I would describe it as dark and sensual. I try to draw and paint how I see the world in my head. Beautiful women dressed in black, roses among knives, skulls and a sense of darkness surrounding everything. It’s a simple pallet of subjects, but it’s the only imagery and ideas I’m interested in.
I’m not interested in the trends I see influencing people’s work, and I never stray too far from my comfort zone. I’ve had people complain about that in the past, but I have enough in my mind to satiate the majority of people who look at my work, and myself, which is the most important aspect I suppose.
There is this immediate history to what you do – as if each piece produced is some kind of perfectly preserved artefact. I was once told, “there is no solid design without a solid reference”. Would you say there is truth in that statement? Does good design lean on history to some degree?
They say art is in the eye of the beholder, right? It only matters to those who are involved or viewing whatever work it is they are looking at. Some people are okay with creating things that have no obvious reference or history, as you put it, and that’s fine, if that’s what you’re into. As far as a design being solid without reference, I am a little less lenient. Many designs can easily be traced back to something else, if not subject matter, the approach. If not the approach, the execution. I do think it’s important to have a solid foundation, and sort of a strong lineage, or history, to a design.
I have a certain standard when it comes to that kind of thing, though I wouldn’t press my views on others. Let’s just say you won’t see any Wu-Tang logos involved in anything I make. I like to have an air of seriousness to my work. That’s just for me, though. I don’t care what others are inspired by.
I love walking around a city and taking photos of things to reference – even if it’s just a shape or something that lends itself to an idea. For example, iron fences make great border designs, and I often frame skulls with these borders. These days, I’m heavily influenced by architectural design. I steal that stuff all the time. It doesn’t matter to me whether someone else is bothered by it.
Playboy, as well as other erotic magazines, are great. I try to make the women I draw look timeless, and 80’s lingerie models tend to have that look. Not too old, where it’s dated, and not too new, where it looks immature. It’s all preference, but it’s what works for me.
Your work is so incredibly refined, hyper-imaginative and stupidly clean. When did you start to feel you were hitting the mark with what you do?
I’m happy with the work I make, to a degree. That being said, I don’t think I’ll ever “hit the mark” I’m striving for, and I don’t intend to. The day I feel content with what I’m making – where it’s no longer a challenge, is when I’ll stop doing it. Things can always be better and can always look cleaner. I suppose whether you’re conscious of it or not, an artist is always working towards where they are currently. I really don’t ever think about my work that way; like I’m getting somewhere. I’m just trying to communicate my feelings and ideas.
I imagine you to have experimented a lot creatively over the years – working in different mediums and styles in order to land where you have. So, what is the attraction to black-work? What drew you to focus on what you are doing now?
I like working exclusively in black because it’s so simple, straight forward and fast. I can do twice as much work than if I were to use color. I’m also colorblind, so it makes it a bit easier for me.
What are you currently working on, painting or otherwise?
I’m always working on at least 5-10 projects at once that are either commissions or drawings for myself. A lot of the people who buy these from me can attest to the wait time that comes along with that. I’m currently working on getting some shirts made, and possibly a zine. Later this year, I’ll be focusing on tattooing again, and a few projects I don’t want to mention yet, but I’m excited for.
Can you speak to your relationship with tattooing?
I’ve always had a strange relationship with tattooing. I was always interested in the act of tattooing, and what it represented, but as I spent a little bit of time within that scene, I grew a disliking for the culture and what goes on within it. I had an interest in tattooing, got a job at a shop, quit the shop, got an apprenticeship, did some tattoos, the apprenticeship ended and now I’m on my own.
I didn’t enjoy the idea of how tattooing was – the online subculture, people with all kinds of fake personalities and attitude problems. I was in love with the art, and nothing else. It’s a hard world to get into, and a hard world to want to stay in. If you think you can make it, and want to be a part of it, just start making tattoos. Your path will unfold in front of you over time.
No one else does it quite like you, but what are your thoughts on the world of tattooing embracing and adopting the nature of your work so openly?
I don’t think I created something new. Black-and-white imagery has been around much longer than myself, and those who came before me. I think the only thing I’ve done that could be considered “new” is using a certain language in my work that maybe didn’t have a good showing beforehand. I definitely see it everywhere now – some blatant rip-offs of my work and some that have grown and become something different. I’m not the one who made it famous, but I can and have traced back to where those few individuals got their inspiration from. I have no problem with someone being influenced by something I’ve created, it’s how you go about it that I care about. If you take something from me and call it your own, or take it, and tell me you are going to continue to do my style because it sells, we could have a problem. To close this off, in my opinion, if your flash is created on a computer, it’s a joke. How do you say “fuck you” in French and Russian?