13 April 2014

Art for Lent (40): ‘Entry into the City’
(2012), by John August Swanson

‘Entry into the City’ (2012), by John August Swanson

Patrick Comerford

We move into Holy Week with our celebrations of Palm Sunday today [13 April 2014]. At the end of a residential weekend for part-time and distance learning MTh students, I am presiding at the Community Eucharist in the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute this morning.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for the Liturgy of the Palms are: Matthew 21: 1-11 and Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29. The readings for the Liturgy of the Passion are: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 31: 9-16; Philippians 2: 5-11; and Matthew 26: 14 to 27: 66, or Matthew 27: 11-54.

My choice of a work of Art for Lent this morning is ‘Entry into the City’ (2012), by John August Swanson. This painting is based on one of his largest paintings, ‘Entry into the City’ (1990), and featured in Life magazine in December 1994 when it illustrated a feature, “Who was Jesus?”

That painting was bought for the Centre of Continuing Education at the University of Notre Dame.

This 2012 multi-media version measures 3 ft x 4 ft. It is a re-imagining of the 1990 acrylic, but features additional figures and details, and brighter, more vibrant, colour. The new painting was begun in August 2011 and was completed in January 2012. It is now in the collection of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.

In this painting, thousands march, watch, wave banners, and hold their palm branches in hope. They focus their attention on Christ. The people lay their cloaks and rugs before him. With love and dignity, Christ rides a donkey through the crowds, as the sky shines with a golden glow, while storm clouds look down with anger, foreshadowing, the Passion.

Speaking about this painting, John August Swanson said: “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. It is relived in the lives of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero, and Cesar Chavez.”

John August Swanson lives in Los Angeles, California, where he was born in 1938. He paints in oil, watercolour, acrylic and mixed media, and is an independent printmaker of limited edition serigraphs, lithographs and etchings.

His art reflects the strong heritage of story-telling he inherited from his Mexican mother and Swedish father.

He addresses human values, cultural roots, and his quest for self-discovery through visual images. These include Bible stories and social celebrations such as going to the circus, a concert or the opera, or everyday life, including city and country walks, visits to the library, the train station or the schoolroom. All his parables optimistically embrace life and speak of spiritual transformation.

His style is influenced by the imagery of Islamic and mediaeval miniatures, Russian iconography, the colour of Latin American folk art, and the tradition of Mexican mural artists.

His art is detailed complex, and elaborate. His limited-edition screen prints have from 40 to 89 colours, and are printed using transparent and opaque inks creating rich and detailed imagery.

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 passages from Ecclesiastes. The Benedictine theologian and writer, Sister Joan Chittister OSB, wrote the text, and the book received the Catholic Press Association’s first-place award in spirituality in 1996.

His works can be seen in 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. Other works by him can be seen in the print collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Harvard University’s Fogg Museum, the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

His painting ‘The Procession’ is one of the relatively few works by contemporary artists to be selected for the Vatican Museums’ Collection of Modern Religious Art.

In 2008, the Candler School of Theology at Emory University bought an extensive collection of his works to hang on the walls of its new 76,349 sq ft building. He was awarded The Dean’s Medal for his art’s transformative effect on the campus.

Today [13 April 2014], to mark Palm Sunday, the artist is attending an exhibition of his works in First United Methodist Church, Santa Monica, and will give a public lecture in connection with the exhibition at 1 p.m.


Almighty and everlasting God,
who, in your tender love towards the human race,
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
Grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father.

Tomorrow:Mary anointing Jesus’ feet’ (1998), by Dinah Roe Kendall.

1 comment:

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