While most of his peers are retired and traveling around the world the venerable Miami architect Robert Swedroe has chosen a different path. Not only is he still practicing architecture but he is passionately immersed in creating an astounding number of dynamic, colorful collages.
Some of the impetus to immerse himself so fully into art in recent years was the result of the Great Recession on his architecture business. During decades of specializing in multi-residential architecture, his firm had been acclaimed by developers and end-users for product excellence. Swedroe’s innovative, efficient, award-winning buildings were unparalleled. They incorporated private entry elevators that eliminated long halls in buildings and strategic configurations that captured commanding views for each residence. But with a majority of the firm’s notable residential buildings located in coastal Florida and many, such as Acqualina Residences and Resorts and Williams Island, in Miami-Dade County, the recession nearly shut him down. Fortunately it merely forced Swedroe to downsize. And while timing due to the recession seemed dismal for his architecture business, it proved to be ideal for Swedroe’s art. With that awareness he redirected some of his boundless energy toward creating collages.
In his architecture practice the very nature of Swedroe’s building designs has always included a compendium of irrevocable requirements. In contrast, his collage art allows him to express his creativity without limitations. Indeed, his collages range from romantic, story-telling “narratives” to geometric constructions harkening to today’s technology to mind-jarring surrealism. In keeping with his penchant for order, his modus operandi incorporates working within six themed series: Narrative, or story-telling; Cyber, referring to his architectural proclivity; Celestial, comprised of circles; Tube, characterized by images from art catalogs; Container, evolved from wine-shipping and other unlikely containers; and Reflection, constructed from interior designers’ glittering samples. The themes provide him options to explore all possibilities for a perfect balance of elements. And while Swedroe’s diversified art may appear to be paradoxical there is arguably a commonality in all. Dynamic color, fascinating details, extraordinary subject matter and ingenious three dimensional objects prevail.
In recent years Swedroe’s work has been visible in a variety of significant regional locations. There was the Bakehouse Gallery’s “Art and Culture in Miami Before 1980” exhibit in 2006 followed by collages featured in the Sacco Gallery at the Scope Fair during Art Basel 2007. Concurrently the Sagamore Art Hotel commissioned a floor installation for a heavily trafficked location in the lobby. Composed of 30” X 30” segments of shiny, colorful individual squares it proved strong enough to support droves of people using it as their foot walk and earned rave reviews. There have also been six solo shows, from Miami to the respected Contessa Gallery in Cleveland Ohio to SoHo in London. His work has been exhibited in New York, Chicago, Palm Beach and London. In addition, his “Boys in the Band” collage won first place in the American Institute of Architects Miami Chapter for their “Art by Architects in 2006 and 2911.” What is not commonly known is that the extraordinary inventory of more than 500 mixed-media collages he has completed since 2006 comprise Swedroe’s second go-round as a serious collage artist.
His first go-round occurred during the 1960’s and early 1970’s, while Swedroe simultaneously worked full time as a senior design architect for the famed Morris Lapidus. Swedroe, born and raised in The Bronx, had graduated from Yale University where he studied under such luminaries as Paul Rudolph. Subsequently he and his young wife moved to Florida where they settled in an apartment in Bay Harbor Islands. In contrast to “Paul Rudolph’s maddening schedule,” and blessed with unstoppable energy, “I had a lot of activities and varied interests,” he recalls. “I was very ‘into’ scuba diving and collecting tropical specimens and involved with the South Florida Aquarium Society.”
Fascinated with the tropical Florida environs, he began making intricate little constructions of stones and sea shells. Turtle sculptures compiled of stones with painted patterns were so finely detailed that one expected them to be walking to the shoreline. And although he remembers always sketching and drawing from childhood, he also began making little paper collages on cardboard. “It was like an insatiable habit,” he admits. “I’d do one and want to do another one, maybe a little bigger, a different color.” He says it was fun channeling his energy into his art, first on Saturdays and Sundays and then later at night, as well. Although the collage art had started as a hobby, Miami’s impresaria Judy Drucker saw so much promise in his work that she gave him his first solo Gallery show. It was followed by seven others, including one in Manhattan
When Swedroe opened his own firm in the early 1970’s he reluctantly packed away his art materials to focus totally on growing his business. It wasn’t until 33 years later, after he had converted his three car home garage to a light-washed studio, that he began making collages again.
One of the hallmarks of Swedroe’s recent collage art is dazzling color. A riveting example is a 240” X 97” floor-to-ceiling, four color installation currently exhibited in the modern lobby of the 12000 office building in Miami. This is the very same building in which the prolific Swedroe still works full time in his architecture business – without missing a beat in creating his collages. No surprise that he is so committed to his art. He says, “The freedom to contemplate, organize, and create multi-media assembleages has been the natural antidote to the restrictions of my architectural world. With art I find myself bound only by the limitations I set for myself.”
Robert Swedroe’s first hardcover book, The Collages of Robert M. Swedroe, published in 2000, boasts 179 full color pages of his early art; The sequel, published in 2012, showcases his recent art in 125 color pages. Indeed, the age-defying Robert Swedroe may well be the consummate re-emerging artist.