About the Artist
JOHN AUGUST SWANSON makes his home in Los Angeles, California, where he was born in 1938. He paints in oil, watercolor, acrylic and mixed media, and is an independent printmaker of 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. 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.
John Swanson studied with Corita Kent at Immaculate Heart College. His 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.
His art is in no way "naïve." It is detailed, complex, and elaborate. Unlike many contemporary artists, John Swanson works directly on all phases in producing his original prints. His serigraphs (limited-edition screen prints) have from 40 to 89 colors printed, using transparent and opaque inks creating rich and detailed imagery. For each color printed the artist must draw a stencil on Mylar film. This stencil is transferred to the silk screen for printing the color ink on the serigraph edition. The resulting serigraph is a matrix of richly overlaid colors visually striking and technically masterful.
Mr. Swanson’s art is represented in the permanent collections of many museums, including three museums of the Smithsonian Institution: The National Museum of American History, The National Museum of American Art and The National Air and Space Museum. He is also included in the print collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Harvard University’s Fogg Museum, the Tate Gallery and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. His painting THE PROCESSION is one of relatively few works by contemporary artists to be selected for the Vatican Museums’ Collection of Modern Religious Art. In 2008, an extensive collection of John August Swanson’s works were purchased by Emory University’s Candler School of Theology to hang on the walls of their new 76,349 square foot building. He was awarded The Dean’s Medal for his art’s transformative effect on the campus. With over 55 works hung, this is the largest open public display of the artwork of John August Swanson.
Life magazine, December 1994, featured John Swanson’s painting ENTRY INTO THE CITY for the article "Who Was Jesus?". This painting was purchased for the Center of Continuing Education building at the University of Notre Dame.
In 1995 Orbis Books published There Is A Season which featured Swanson’s painting, ECCLESIASTES. It is a series of meditations in art and words on the famous passage from Ecclesiastes. Joan Chittister, O.S.B. wrote the text. This book won the Catholic Press Association’s 1996 first-place award in spirituality.
John Swanson was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters degree honoris causa from California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, California, on May 11, 1996, in recognition of his visionary achievements as a graphic artist . The University also recognized Ray Bradbury, in literature, and Norman Corwin, in radio and film.
At the invitation of The Polis Institute of Indianapolis (Indiana University/Purdue University), in November 1998 John Swanson held an exhibition and lectured at Christian Theological Seminary as part of the annual Spirit and Place Festival. In conjunction with this event, he led a very successful three-day retreat based on his art called "Bringing Stories to Life Through Art: The Journey of the Spirit" at the Fatima Retreat House, Indianapolis.