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Swetik Korzeniewski is an architect, painter and sculptor. His father was an engineer and the family migrated from Belarus to Australia when the artist was three years old. Equally talented in science and drawing, Swetik, the singular name by which he is best known, chose to pursue architecture, a choice which satisfied his creative tendencies and problem solving capabilities.
Swetik studied architecture at the University of Sydney in the 1960s when Lloyd Rees taught drawing in the faculty. In 1968, his final year, he began life-drawing classes at night at John Ogburn’s Harrington Street Studio in The Rocks, Sydney, a decision that had a lasting influence on his work.
After completing his Masters of Architecture in 1970 under the American architect Louis I. Kahn at the University of Pennsylvania, Swetik worked in Philadelphia and then in London for Denys Lasdun. Throughout his professional career he travelled to America, Europe, China and Japan studying, lecturing and practising art and architecture. Expressions of these cultures fuelled his interest in the arts.
Returning to a teaching post at the School of Architecture, University of Sydney in 1972, he tutored, coordinated design studios and lectured on Italian renaissance and baroque architecture. Swetik resumed life-drawing classes under Ogburn where an appreciation for the seriousness and complexity of the visual arts developed further. An interest in painting, especially plein-air landscapes, soon blossomed. Works such as the 12 Apostles (2003) captured a serene monumentally of the Australian landscape under the changing condition of natural light. Swetik coupled Ogburn’s lessons on colour and form with the techniques of the cultures he had experienced. Tree Music (2001), a figurative landscape of undulating gums, explores Chinese and Japanese watercolour painting in an Australian context. In 1983 he started to contribute to group exhibitions at the Harrington Street Artists Cooperative.
While teaching, Swetik practiced architecture, collaborating on several projects with Paul Desney, a fellow student at both Sydney University and Harrington Street studio. They gained local and international recognition for two of their architectural works: Kidsville (1975 – 76) in Newtown, Sydney, and the Ana Kindergarten (1979 – 82) for the Turkish community in Auburn, Sydney. They also received belated praise for their unsuccessful Australian Parliament House proposal (1979). The Parliament House scheme demonstrated a seamless formation of various influences. Swetik put into practice his knowledge of Italian architecture by paying homage to Bernini’s piazza at St Peter’s in Vatican City. Both the parliamentarian and the general public are equally welcomed and embraced within a baroque inspired forecourt. Equality, openness and accountability, qualities he believes are central to the aspirations of a young democracy and the parliamentary process, are expressed in the building’s internal planning.
The ordered planning at both the scale of the national parliament scheme and of the local kindergarten celebrates ritual and monumentality. They embody the formal language of Kahn through his philosophy of architecture as “the thoughtful making of rooms”, dependant on the natural capabilities of material. The resultant primordial solids are manifest through an economy, honesty and autochthony of materials. The intricacies and rhythm of the structure are elaborated as the severe light of the subtropics casts shadows over their tactile forms.
A respect for the potential of materials and their intrinsic qualities present in his architecture also governed Swetik’s sculpture. His sculptural work developed into abstract, fluid forms of stone and timber that freeze motion in time. Sculptor Tom Bass awarded Swetik 1st place in the 2000 Bowral sculpture prize for The Dancer. The Tumut marble abstract form was judged to be appropriate to the material while expressing movement.
After retiring from the University of Sydney in 2001, Swetik held a number of solo exhibitions including works of architecture, drawing, painting and sculpture. When asked if his work in one medium influenced the work of another he denied any direct link, other than that all works are initiated and studied through drawing. Swetik believes each medium presents its own inherent potentials. The characteristics and idiosyncrasies of each art form demand their own methodology and work processes. To force the potentials of one medium upon the other is of little value.
“I am not interested in 'going beyond’ painting or sculpture or architecture but rather working within established traditions and yet expressing some of my own perceptions and feelings”, Swetik asserts.
Associations may be made between the solid labour-intensive tactility of his architecture and sculpture, his eye for monumentality in his landscape painting, sculpture and architecture, and the figurative nature of his sculpture and stylised watercolours. Swetik’s oeuvre is characterised by a reverence for light, its capability and changeability that renders the haptic as optic and the static as dynamic.
De Lorenzo, Dr Catherine Note: Nagle, Hugh I. Note: