About the Artist
JOHN AUGUST SWANSON was born January 11, 1938 in El Monte, California, and died September 23, 2021, in Los Angeles. He painted in oil, watercolor,
acrylic, and mixed media, and was an independent printmaker of limited edition serigraphs,
lithographs, etchings, and other prints.
His art reflected his strong heritage of storytelling, inherited from his
Mexican mother and Swedish father. John Swanson's narratives are direct and easily
understood. He addressed human values, cultural roots, and the quest for
self-discovery through visual images. These include Bible stories and celebrations,
circuses, concerts, and operas. He optimistically embraced
life and spiritual transformation.
John Swanson studied lettering and printmaking with Corita Kent at Immaculate Heart
College. His style was detailed, complex, and elaborate. It was influenced by the imagery
of Islamic and medieval miniatures and Russian iconography, the color of Latin
American folk art, and the tradition of Mexican muralists.
As an artist, printer and serigrapher, Swanson oversaw all phases of the production of his
original silkscreen prints. His hand-crafted serigraphs are printed in up to 89 colors of
transparent and opaque inks, which overlap to create rich and detailed imagery. For each
color printed, the artist drew a stencil on Mylar film. Each stencil was subsequently
transferred to a silkscreen, which was used to print one color onto the serigraph edition.
After many printings, the resulting serigraph is a matrix of richly overlaid colors, visually
striking and technically masterful. Beginning in 2011, he began to created editions of archival Giclée print editions. Every print was
carefully inspected and color-matched by the artist.
Mr. Swanson's art is represented in the permanent collections of many museums, including:
The Smithsonian Institution's National Museums of American History, American Art, and
Air and Space; his works are in the print collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Harvard
University's Fogg Museum, the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London,
and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. His painting, THE PROCESSION, is displayed in
the Vatican Museums' Collection of Modern Religious Art.
Life magazine's December, 1994 edition featured Swanson's painting, ENTRY INTO THE
CITY, for the article, Who Was Jesus?. This painting is in the collection of the University of
Notre Dame, and is displayed in their Center for Continuing Education. John August
Swanson revisited ENTRY INTO THE CITY in August of 2011 through January of 2012,
creating a new mixed-media painting, now in the permanent collection of Our Lady of the
Angels Cathedral, Los Angeles.
Mr. Swanson's 2002 serigraph, FRANCIS AND THE WOLF, was used as the cover image
for the October, 2002 edition of St. Anthony's Messenger. The corresponding article, Artist
John August Swanson and His Images, written by Jack Wintz, OFM, featured the artist's
connection with Francis of Assisi, several original artworks, and his biography.
In 1995, Orbis Books published There Is A Season (Catholic Press Association's 1996
first-place award in spirituality) 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. A second collaboration with Joan Chittister, The Story of
Ruth, based on the serigraph, STORY OF RUTH, was published in 2000 by Eerdmans.
In July, 2002, Orbis Books published the book, Saint Francis. Marie Dennis' text comments
on Swanson's multi-panel painting, FRANCIS OF ASSISI. This elaborate, narrative painting
on the life of St. Francis is explored through close-ups and details.
John Swanson was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters degree honoris causa by
California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, California, on May 11, 1996, in recognition
of his visionary achievements as a graphic artist.
In January, 2001, a mosaic reproducing John Swanson's serigraph, GREAT CATCH, was
dedicated at Concordia University in Irvine, California. Made by craftsmen in Italy from
Byzantine glass, the 6' by 8' mosaic is installed in the foyer of the Grimm Student Union.
Since September, 2002, the artwork of John August Swanson continues to be exhibited
throughout Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition to building an extensive
collection, featuring old and new works, Luther Seminary maintains an important archive of
materials from the artist's creative process, including: sketches, stencils, canceled silk screens,
and technical information from the printing process, as well as articles, press releases, notes,
and correspondence. Though displayed within the school, Luther Seminary's collection has
also been made available for display outside of campus, including major exhibitions in Minneapolis,
Minnesota at the Basilica of St. Mary (2002 and 2012) and Westminster Presbyterian Church (2010).
In January, 2003, John Swanson's serigraph, FRANCIS AND THE WOLF, was awarded a
President's Purchase Award by the Kellogg Art Gallery, California State University - Pomona,
Ink & Clay 29 Exhibit; GOOD SAMARITAN and LOAVES AND FISHES were similarly
awarded in subsequent Ink and Clay Exhibitions.
In 2005, Mr. Swanson was one of 33 Inaugural recipients (including Pope John Paul II,
Bishop Desmond Tutu, and President Jimmy Carter) of the Mother Teresa Award, for
achievements which beautify the world.
In 2006, Swanson was commissioned by Hill Avenue Grace Lutheran Church, Pasadena, to
create a large altarpiece based on his NATIVITY TRYPTICH for an altarpiece in their
Christ Chapel. In 2007, incorporating elements from the TRIPTYCH, the artist collaborated
with Judson Studios to create beautiful stained glass windows that surround the altarpiece,
and compliment the chapel's collection of Swanson works.
In 2008, an extensive collection of John August Swanson's works were acquired by Emory
University's new Candler School of Theology and the Center for Ethics for display. Now,
with over 55 works hung, this is the largest open public display of the artwork of John
August Swanson. Additionally, Emory University's Pitts Theology Library keeps an archive
of Swanson's work, includes notes, studies of Swanson's artwork, examples of the printing
process, and pieces dating back to 1969.
Candler's Dean Jan Love awarded Swanson the Dean's Medal in 2009 for his art's
transformative effect on the campus. During his visit to Emory in 2009, Swanson gave
lectures and collaborated with Don Saliers, distinguished Professor of Theology and
Worship, Emeritus, in preparing a liturgy. In July of 2011, The Thrill of Hope DVD and
guide book was published, combining Swanson's artwork of the birth of Christ with
commentary from professors of the Candler School of Theology. A sequel, What Wondrous
Love, is scheduled for release in September, 2012. Between April 2 and June 22, 2012 The
Art of Storytelling: The John August Swanson Collection was displayed at Pitts Library,
introduced with a lecture by Don Saliers.
Between October 1 and December 12, 2008, Yale Divinity School's Institute of Sacred
Music exhibited 40 of Swanson's serigraphs. 17 were acquired for permanent display, and
remain in the University's collection. Swanson presented a lecture to a Graduate level class
on the Iconography of Christian Art, and spoke at First Presbyterian Church and United
Church on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut.
March 22 and 23, 2009, Loyola Marymount University held a symposium, titled,
Theological Aesthetics and the Art of John August Swanson. Four scholars delivered papers
at the symposium which were published in the 21:1, 2010 edition of the journal, Arts in
Religious and Theological Studies.
On the April 27, 2012, Swanson spoke on the theme of Art and Social Justice for the
Visiting Artists & Lecturers Series for LMU's College of Communication & Fine Arts.
Swanson is a regular guest speaker for LMU Prof. Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu's class, Meeting
Christ in Faith & Art. His work is featured in her book, Bridge to Wonder: Art as the Gospel
of Beauty (Baylor University, 2012).
Throughout November of 2010, Fuller Seminary, Pasadena, CA, displayed eleven serigraphs
in the school's Hubbard Library. The event opened with presentations given by John August
Swanson, and Dr. Robin M. Jenson, Professor at Vanderbilt University. This event was
sponsored by the Seminary's Brehm Center for “creative integration of worship, theology,
and arts in culture.
September 4 through November 28, 2010, a private collection of Swanson's artwork was
displayed at the restored D.A. Blodgett Building in Grand Rapids, MI. The exhibition was
sponsored by the Inner City Christian Federation, a group which provides assistance to
low-income residents. Swanson delivered a series of lectures on his art and social justice.
This collection will travel to Dordt College in Sioux Center, IA, October 13 through
November 28, 2012, and Trinity Christian College Palos Heights, Illinois, in February, 2013.
June through September, 2012, Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles exhibited
The Art of John August Swanson, a collection of 30 framed serigraphs, paintings, and
giclées, representing more than 25 years of the artist's work.
In celebration of the parish's 65th Anniversary, on September 16, 2012, St. Matthew's
Lutheran Church in Glendale, CA unveiled a 4' x 5' mosaic adapted from John August
Swanson's 1987 serigraph, THE RIVER.
Christ Cathedral (the former Crystal Cathedral) in Garden Grove, California, dedicated their
Chapel of Unity and Reconciliation in 2015. The chapel features an 11' x 15' mural of
Swanson's 1999 painting, WASHING OF THE FEET.
On May 19, 2018, Swanson was awarded an Honorary
Doctor of Letters degree by Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.
May 11, 2009 profile in the National Catholic Reporter.