This work expands on themes that are central to the artist’s practice: life and death, time and its passing, mortality and immortality. Merging childhood memories with art historical sources, Swallow brings a contemporary and personal perspective to the vanitas tradition. Within the tondo format, the dead bodies of animals familiar to an Australian upbringing – a hare, a magpie, a duck, appear tethered upside down in the manner of a 17th century Dutch still life painting. Peering in from an outer edge, a small swallow (the artist’s namesake) shares our vantage point as if surveying the beautiful but macabre scene, while the small fox skull, rats and lizards at the bottom encapsulate the work’s reflection on life’s transience.

Text © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia


  • Title: Salad days
  • Creator: Ricky Swallow
  • Creator Lifespan: 18 November 1974
  • Creator Nationality: Australian
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Birth Place: San Remo, Victoria
  • Date Created: (2005)
  • Physical Dimensions: 102.0 x 102.0 x d238 cm (Complete)
  • Type: Reliefs (Sculptures)
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased with funds from the Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2005, © National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: jelutong (Dyera costulata), maple (Acer sp.)

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