Artist: ‘I want to speak to you in everyday terms’
Cathedral presents ‘The Art of John August Swanson.’
"The Art of John August Swanson,” featuring the work of one of Southern California’s premier artists, is the latest contemporary art exhibition to be featured at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in its tenth anniversary year.
The exhibition --- on display June 3-Sept. 30 in the Cathedral’s Art Chapel and the adjacent Chapel --- is curated by Prof. Ronald E. Steen, art historian, art educator, art advisor and curator of exhibitions at Judson Studios, and a member of the Cathedral Fine Arts committee.
Featured in museums around the world, John August Swanson --- a Los Angeles native born in 1938 --- paints in oil, watercolor, acrylic and mixed media, and produces limited edition serigraphs, lithographs and etchings. His art reflects the strong heritage of storytelling he inherited from his Mexican mother and Swedish father.
“John Swanson’s narrative is direct and easily understood,” said Steen. “He addresses himself to human values, cultural roots, and his quest for self-discovery through visual images. These include Bible stories and social celebrations such as attending the circus, the concert, and the opera. He also tells of everyday existence, of city and country walks, of visits to the library, the train station or the schoolroom. All his parables optimistically embrace life and one’s spiritual transformation.”
Having studied with the famed Corita Kent at Immaculate Heart College, Swanson’s unique style is influenced by the imagery of Islamic and medieval miniatures, Russian iconography, the color of Latin American folk art, and the tradition of Mexican muralists.
“The images I make are not for ‘art’s sake,’ nor are they for pure self-expression,” noted Swanson in a statement assessing his work. “I want to speak to you in everyday terms as if you were sitting here beside me. I pull from old roots to make a new thing that I hope will catch some of the light of our archetypal beacons.
“I try to make accessible and reaffirm certain values — caring for each other, acting as peacemakers, or something as simple as listening to someone who needs to be heard. These values are all around us, are part of us, and I want to tell their stories.
“When we make music together, or walk in the country — or in a great procession together — we are living parables from the Bible and history. I want to affirm the solitary and mundane acts as well. The woman who irons her family’s clothes has as much dignity and worth as the statesman.”
Throughout the Cathedral’s history, its Fine Arts Committee has presented contemporary art exhibitions spotlighting artists who produce exemplary (and well-crafted ) themes of spirituality. Over the years exhibitions have featured artists who were commissioned to produce art specifically for the cathedral --- among them, Lalo Garcia (The Guadalupe Chapel), Robert Graham (The Bronze Doors) and John Nava (The Communion of Saints Tapestries).
Swanson was commissioned to produce large banners for the opening ceremonies of the Cathedral on Sept. 2, 2002. These banners are utilized during different liturgical times of the year.
The majority of works displayed in the exhibition are limited edition serigraphs on paper. In addition works done in acrylic on canvas and acrylic on paper are included. Each work in the exhibition is accompanied by educational wall text, written by the artist. (The artwork featured here includes the artist’s commentary.)
“Making art has helped me with the changes and growth --- the rites of passage --- in my own life,” Swanson explains. “When I reach a sort of transcendental fruition in my work, I realize the images and ideas I have struggled with are not mine alone, but common to all humanity. When people see my work and can relate to it their own struggle and growth, then I am very happy.”
"The Art of John August Swanson” is on display June 3-Sept. 30 in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels’ Art Chapel and the adjacent Chapel, 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. Hours: Monday-Friday, 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Information: (213) 680-5200.
(Serigraph, 2002; Image Size 37" x 13½")
My earliest “Good Samaritan,” a crayon scraffitto done in 1970, was one of my first attempts at telling a story in pictures; a subject told in three-panels. Thirty-two years and thousands of hours of experimentation done in workshops in London and Southern California later, I returned to make a new interpretation.
It is remarkable what you can discover in an old and familiar story. Sometimes it is necessary to take a long “journey” to rediscover earlier creative ideas that are so personal and connected to one’s history. The scenes can be studied both individually and as a sequence.
(Acrylic on paper, 2012; Image Size 27 ¼" x 15")
Peter and his friends have been fishing all night; they are tired and have not caught any fish. Someone on the beach calls out: “Put down your nets one more time. Don’t give up yet.” They put down their nets and they catch so many fish that the nets are almost breaking! The sunlight reflects on the clouds, the sail, and the faces of the fishermen. In the upper right corner, the moon pulls in her net of stars to symbolize the night leaving.
“The Fishermen” helps me to accept struggles and to appreciate the casting of my own “net” into the waves, and the surprise of experiencing the fruit and abundance that are there. We are reminded, too, of the inexhaustible resources within each of us.
ENTRY INTO THE CITY
(Acrylic on canvas, 2012; Image Size 36" x 48")
Thousands march, watch, wave banners, and hold their palm branches in hope. They focus their attention on Jesus. The people lay rugs and cloaks before Him. He rides a donkey through the crowds, seeing the suffering the ordinary people go through and that the people in power have no concern for them. The sky looks down with anger and clouds show a yellow glow, foreshadowing The Passion.
I wanted to convey my feelings of being in marches, with large groups of people. This scene has repeated in the lives of heroic and selfless leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Msgr. Óscar Romero, and Cesar Chavez, who spoke out against the powerful for their communities.
(Serigraph, 1988; Image Size 38½" x 12)
“Epiphany” depicts the journey of the three Magi as they travel up a serpentine trail. One of the Wise Men is seated as he looks at a map of the constellations with his magnifying glass; his servant holds a lamp so that he can see. Another Magi searches with his telescope into the sky. They look up in search of their beautiful guiding star as angels surround and point to it.
I used many symbols within the tapestries draping the animals. These patterns depict the Lion of Judah, the lamp in the darkness, the rain falling on the parched ground, the key to the locked door, the crown and the heart, and the gates to the city.
Prayer of the MonthPapal intentions for November: That priests who experience difficulties may find comfort in their suffering, support in their doubts, and confirmation in their fidelity. That as fruit of the continental mission, Latin American Churches may send missionaries to other Churches.
Papal intentions for December: That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.