From May through September, 2019, The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels will exhibit thirty-one of my paintings, serigraphs, lithographs, and giclees. The exhibit is located in two chapels accessible from the North Ambulatory. Below, we have prepared a list of the artworks displayed, and some information about each piece. If you have any questions about the artworks or the exhibit, you are welcome to contact my studio.
THE JESTER Serigraph, 2001 26 ¾" x 20 ¾" 35 colors printed
THE JESTER climbs the ladder to look at the heavens. His friends are asleep, while he is awake. Part of us is awake; part of us, asleep. In this artwork, John August Swanson sought to refine his understanding of dreamscapes, creativity, and imagination.
God chooses the foolish of the world to confound the wise; God chooses the weak of the world to confound the mighty. – 1 Corinthians 1:27
Only the clown delights in the beauty of the night sky, while the rest sleep. He looks at the stars in wonder and is surprised by the vastness of the universe. Though THE JESTER and all his companions live a difficult life i the circus, only he, the fool, is wise enough to appreciate, and be able to regenerate in awe of the cosmos. THE JESTER is a modern telling of the biblical story of Jacob’s Dream, of the ladder that the angels use to climb to and from heaven.
The night sky surrounds the central image in a border of stars. This border contains many circus acts and performers as new imaginary constellations. The act at the top of the work is the high-flying trapeze. One performer jumps out in unerring faith, completely unafraid, and holding the belief that he or she will be caught.
THE SHEPHERDS is based on a very early crayon sgraffito painting from 1969. John August Swanson would build up layers of brightly colored wax crayon, and then, using a metal scribe as a scraping tool, he drew intricate patterns and figures into the layers of crayon.
He felt that it was very important to go back and reconsider this artwork; it was important to go back and refine the figures, the animals, the buildings, the night sky, and the angel. He needed to share this artwork with people, so that we may consider the plight and hardships which the majority of our human family still face.
The shepherds were the poorest of workers. An angel tells them to go to a small shed in the fields. There, they find a new born baby and his homeless, refugee parents in the winter night.
36" x 24"
89 colors printed
Everyone, and every community of faith, is a procession of stories. Stories are both unique and shared; they connect us to those who have gone before us, and to those who will come after us. THE PROCESSION is a celebration of life and faith, where the rich and poor march in unison, the strong carry the weak, and the weak humble the proud. Those who know the dance of peace teach those who are just learning it, and a child lifts high the banner for all to follow in joy, in peace, and in love. This is the reality, the spirit, that John August Swanson wants to make real in art.
Processions can move us all toward transformation. To gather support for their movements, people have walked many miles in procession, carrying banners and flags as a way of physical and spiritual empowerment. Martin Luther King, accompanied by spiritual leaders of different faiths, organized processions and marches for civil rights in the South. Cesar Chavez, the leader of the United Farm Workers, organized farm laborers to work for their rights and to improve their lives. Throughout history, people have gathered together to work for change through processions of understanding and nonviolence.
THE PROCESSION is John August Swanson’s most detailed and complicated artwork. The serigraph took 12 months to print; and it combines 54 different stories, shown in icons and banners throughout the artwork.
On a beautiful cool morning, as the sun rises, the sky lightens, and rays of sunlight cause the ripened fruit to glow, the farmers begin to work. The fruit is a gift of their labor. Some tend to the plants and others the soil. They gather the blessings of an abundant harvest. They work together to support their families. With gratitude, they share their harvest with their community.
Our God has blessed the earth
with a wonderful harvest!
- Psalm 67:6
THE RIVER supplies the water of life to us all as it winds along its course. Each person shares in its blessing, reminding us of our need to keep growing in understanding and compassion for all people, and to see our common source. It connects us to our ancestors, to our descendants, and to all humanity. It is a symbol of giving, and of family.
Communities are formed around rivers: farmers irrigate crops with their surplus; shepherds bring flocks to drink from their waters; people wash, clean clothes, and collect drinking water at their banks, as their children play. All share THE RIVER’s blessing.
The artwork also closely connects to John August Swanson’s family. His mother was raised in the isolated Sierra Nevada Mountains of Mexico. One of her fondest remembrances was on the feast of St. John the Baptist, when her family would go to the river to have a picnic and bathe in the water. Many celebrations and rituals take place at rivers. Some appear ordinary while others are mystical, but each one is integral to who we are and where we come from.
I developed this dramatic scene from a small sketch of an artwork
I had seen. While I kept the themes that I remembered, and which
inspired me, the image became more personal. There is a contemplative
aspect to each of the characters as they try to understand this great tragedy.
Hand-printed lithograph, 1983
15⅛" x 17⅜"
Three young men are taken before the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. He
tells them that they must bow before his golden idol, or be thrown in the
flames. They are faithful to the God of Israel, and refuse. Below the central
image, I continued the story as a sequence showing Shadrach, Meshach, and
Abednego thrown into the furnace, and in the final panel, the three are
accompanied by an angel, dancing unharmed.
During the time I was working on this artwork, I had been enthused by the
hieroglyphics of Babylon, which I used as motifs for the design along the
borders. I had seen the portions of the walls of Babylon, displayed in the
British Museum and the Pergamon Museum in East Berlin..
STORY OF THE PRODIGAL SON
13½" x 40"
58 colors printed
Twenty years after creating THE PRODIGAL SON serigraph, I reimagined the original drawing and expanded each of the five panels with more details. I used this drawn outline as a map, to select and build up each of the colors. For each color, I drew an intricate stencil. The careful layering of each printing creates a matrix of drawings and a depth of intense colors. The layers of inks were varied: clear glazes, strong transparent and opaque inks.
I wanted to portray Mary as a young woman close to the earth.
MADONNA OF THE HARVEST expresses the goodness and beauty of Mother Earth; it celebrates a humankind that cares for the Earth, and is able to share the world's bounty.
24½" x 35½"
This image is about our search for life. The fishermen are weary, yet they are
surprised and excited to see their abundant catch, fish of every size and color.
We go through the discouraging darkness of the night, and sometimes we
want to give up. Then, we hear a voice within, or a friend or mentor says, "Try
again." In this story, we learn about work, patience, waiting, and trying hard.
I wanted to convey my feelings from being in marches for peace and justice. This scene has been repeated countless times in the lives of heroic and selfless leaders who have fought for love, peace, and social justice.