Last Supper.
 Swanson, John August

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Title:Last Supper

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Serigraph, 23” x 30”

ARTIST'S NOTE: I am inspired by a person’s ability to share food with others and the community that grows from this sharing. I see, in the Last Supper, a scene in which the sacred embraces the ordinary. Our daily bread becomes holy when it is shared. The fruit of our labor becomes the fruit of the Spirit when it is shared.“We cannot love God unless we love each other,” says Dorothy Day, “and to love each other we must know each other in the breaking of bread and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship. Love comes with community.”

With this vision of a feast of companionship and sharing in my mind and heart, I began drawing scenes of a group around a circular table. Over the years, I kept drawing and developing other sketches of the Last Supper, but I kept returning to this initial image. At a round table there is no hierarchy of seating. No one can be seated at the “head of the table”. It is a welcome table. No one can be excluded from the conversation. Jesus is at the table as both host and companion. The circular table draws us all into the scene, giving the viewer a feeling of being included in the meal. We are all participating in this supper.“There are so many hungry people that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” --Mahatma Gandhi

Over the centuries, the story of the Last Supper has been approached by great artists in various ways. Because of the mastery of how this scene has been handled by other artists, I didn’t feel that I was ready to convey this great scene with all of its complexities for many years. The emphasis in many of these works is often on the drama of the table, the tension amongst the apostles as news of the betrayal is revealed. At this stage in my life, I am now ready to bring my interpretation to the telling of this tale.

The theme of my serigraph is community, and what it means to share a meal together. It is a celebration of those times in our lives and in history when, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery said,“We have learned to see in bread an instrument of community......the flavor of bread shared has no equal”.I have chosen to create an illuminated narrative border of seventy-eight miniature scenes to emphasize the labor of those who grow and prepare the food. It is important for me, in this celebration of a feast of sharing and companionship, to explorewhere our food comes from, to depict the communal nature between those at the table and those who make the meal possible. Even a simple meal of bread and wine requires the labor of planters, growers, pickers, bakers, winemakers, and so many others.

As in many of my other works, the sacred is expressed in the ordinary acts we do, in the care we that we put into each of the daily activities that sustain us, our loved ones and our community.“…And I pray he works a miracle for the ones who the world leaves empty,For we who struggle and starve while the few cling tight to their plenty.This is my prayer. This is my prayer. This is my prayer. This is my prayer. This is my prayer.For those who work on the land, for those who plant the seed,For those who work with their hands to bring us the food we needThanks be to God and blessings on all who labor.Thanks be to God and justice for all our neighbors.This is my prayer…” -- Song Lyrics by Rev. David Farley (Echo Park United Methodist Church, LA)

Also depicted within the narrative panels are images of caring, sharing and compassion from Matthew 25:35-46;“Just as you did for the least of my family, you did for me.I was hungry, you gave me food. Thirsty, you gave me drink. A stranger, you welcomed me. Naked, you clothed me. Sick, you took care of me. In prison and you visited me.” This supper of mercy is a table of hospitality spread in the midst of an often inhospitable world. In the words of a folk song:“ And there the great revolution could take place; the whole human race could finally sit down in one big circle and eat together and having once shared a meal could no longer be enemies.” It is the table at which gather those who hunger, those who are bound, those who are naked, and where strangers are welcomed. It is the table where we come to know and love each other in the breaking of bread, and are not alone any more.

I hope my art speaks of the hospitality I have experienced from people of all ethnicities, nationalities, and religious backgrounds. The kindness, sharing, and community I have felt stays with me and inspires my art. I feel gratitude recalling the care and warmth of a meal, good company, and generosity and kindness given me, often from those who have so little. These experiences of sharing with our immediate family and the guests we welcome to our table help us to feel solidarity with our whole human family around the world.

“God of Pilgrims, give us always a table to stop at where we can tell our story and sing our song.”--Father John Giuliani OSB, The Benedictine Grange, CT

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. [from the artist's website]

Artist:Swanson, John August
City/Town:Los Angeles
Country:United States

Scripture:John 13:21-32
Matthew 26:14-27:66
Mark 14:1-15:47
Luke 22:14-23:56
John 18:1-19:42
Person as Subject:Jesus Christ (Biblical figure)
Apostles (Biblical figures)
Lectionary links:AHoly03
General Subject:Passion of Jesus Christ: Last Supper
Culture: Hispanic and/or Latino

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Copyright Source:Estate of John August Swanson,
Copyright Permission:The artist has granted permission for the non-commercial use of this image with attribution. The artist must be contacted for other uses.
Attribution:Swanson, John August. Last Supper, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved May 20, 2024]. Original source: Estate of John August Swanson,
Record Number:56552 Last Updated: 2022-06-27 16:07:47 Record Created: 2018-03-31 13:05:00
Institution:Vanderbilt University Collection: Art in the Christian Tradition