Adrian Swinstead: A Biography

Born in London in 1950 Adrian spent his early childhood in South Africa but his parent’s fight against apartheid soon got them expelled to Uganda. His step-father Cecil Todd, a noted surrealist artist, became professor of Art at Makere University, so child care for an 8 year old Adrian meant quietly absorbing undergraduate art classes.

Then at 10 he was suddenly transplanted to a Quaker boarding school in England .This peripatetic and adventurous childhood was compounded by arriving at Hornsey Art School at the height of the ’68 rebellion. Energised by social upheavals on two continents he completed his studies at the Slade where he worked with colours and forms in landscape settings.

Meanwhile Adrian had found himself so drawn to classical Indian tabla that he studied music each winter with Pandit Mahaparush Mishra in Calcutta and Pandit Chhote Lal Mishra in Varanasi. He earned the money for that study by giving concerts under the auspices of an organisation, Live Music Now, founded by Sir Yehudi Menuhin. He played in prisons, psychiatric wards, children’s hospices as well as more orthodox concert venues.

It was at this time that he also started to work with wood, developing a passion for the creative possibilities of the material.

In the late 1980’s Adrian moved out of London, where he had predominantly worked on bespoke interiors and set up his workshop in Wendover Woods in the Chiltern Hills of Buckinghamshire. Living in a beech forest he became fascinated with finding and exploring the fine tracery and random shading found in spalted beech.

The body of work Adrian created contrasting these unusual patterns forms of spalted beech with the rich tones of yew and the strong white of maple was exhibited to critical acclaim at the Werner Krakora gallery in Vienna in 1995.

A year later Adrian had moved his workshop to Maulden Woods in Bedfordshire where his fascination with the genealogy and history of trees continued to grow. In 1999 the 10th century Abbey in Cluny, Burgundy, France hosted a further exhibition. Increasingly this fascination with the history of trees has focused on Bog Oak and the even rarer Bog Yew. The recent highly successful exhibition at The Gallery in Redchurch Street, Shoreditch in 2010 displays Adrian’s powerful and personal vision in its most varied incarnation yet.

Adrian’s driving force is to explore the use of wood; creating pieces that are highly distinctive while respecting the natural beauty of its form. He mixes ancient timber with modern materials such as glass; he uses engineering techniques to create deceptively simple pieces and clean lines.

His work is a homage to the tree.