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Loaves and Fishes

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Preliminary work began April 15, 2003
Completion Date November 4, 2003


Artist’s Notes

For many years I sketched, and tried to work out in my imagination, how the scene of the LOAVES AND FISHES, with its multitude of people, could be painted.  I wanted this image to honor native peoples in many parts of the world; those who work the land for their livelihood, and have lived for generations in small communities or villages.  In 1986, I completed an 18” by 24” acrylic painting on canvas with bright colors, rolling hills and high floating clouds.  The people in my painting are wearing garments with many colors and patterns, inspired by the creations of the makers of cloth, the weavers, and the dyers of Central America, Mexico, and parts of Africa and India.  The Bergsma Gallery, of Grand Rapids, Michigan sold the painting to Trinity College, Palos Heights, Illinois.  The image from this painting proved popular with various groups, and it has been used on books, hymnals, posters and bulletins, by the Presbyterian Church USA, Oregon Catholic Press, Novalis Publishing, and Orbis Books. 


In early 2003, I began to consider revisiting and recreating this image as a serigraph in collaboration with Master Printers, Jim and Sandy Butterfield of Aurora Serigraphics.  I had further developed my own abilities to work with colors, and complex detailed images; and I had a more expansive perspective.  I chose to make the image larger, 24” by 36”.  The meticulous process of creating a drawing for each of the 54 stencils gave me the chance to build up the colors, patterns and textures, and develop the work much further than I could with the painting.  Drawing with fine technical pens, I built up stippling and shaping with each stencil.  After each stencil was printed, in responding to the changing image; I felt the work itself guided me to the next color.  New screens were made for each color to achieve the proper fabric tension required for very precise color registration.  I custom mixed the inks for each printing using a clear varnish and oil paints. The inks are alternately layered opaque and transparent.  This layering creates an effect of intricate built up textures, and rich saturated colors.


My image of LOAVES AND FISHES emphasizes and reminds us of the basic needs of all humanity.  We all share the need for food and for providing for our families and communities. If we take the cosmic view, that there currently exists enough of what we need to sustain the world; we urgently need to consider sharing the resources that have been entrusted to us.


      --John August Swanson, November 2003

Reflections on Corita Kent, Artist and Mentor 



I remember my first encounter with the serigraphic art of Corita.  This was around 1962.  I was with a group of young people, visiting the house of a friend, Fr. Davis.  He had a large framed piece: wonderbread.  I first responded to the joy of the large circles of color on the white paper.  Then I recognized that it was a playful enlargement of the Wonder Bread wrapper.  The priest spoke to us of the symbolism in the work.  We began to open our eyes to play, yet still contemplate the layers of meaning in art.

As I became more familiar with Corita, I became fascinated with her art and ideas.  In 1967-68, I took an evening class of lettering and design with her.  She reached deep into my psyche with her juxtapositions of ideas with our everyday advertisements.  This opened me up to poetry, and ideas of great minds.  She communicated to many people; she reached into them, and opened doors and windows in their hearts and minds.

The lettering in her art is seen as drawing, much like the brushwork of oriental calligraphy.  There are many references to read, sharing, hunger in the world, and our common humanity.  The quotes that were drawn into Corita's brilliant prints are now influencing and inspiring me to create this LOAVES AND FISHES.

John August Swanson November , 2003


" 'It's bad.  You don't konw what to do when you've got five children standing around crying for something to eat and you don't know where to get it and you don't know which way to start to get it.  I just get nervous or something'.
--Kentucky miner's wife
'There are so many hungry people that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread'.
           --from the serigraph
                that they may have life (1964)- Corita


“ When I hear bread breaking I see something else; it seems almost as though God never meant us to do anything else.  So beautiful a sound, the crust breaks up like manna and falls all over everything, and then we eat; bread gets inside humans.            - Daniel Berrigan”        

                                                                                                         --from the serigraph bread breaking (1965)- Corita


Sometime in your life, hope that you might see one starved man, the look on his face when the bread finally arrives.  Hope that you might have baked it or bought it--or even kneaded it yourself.  For that look on his face, for your hands meeting his across a piece of bread, you might be willing to lose a lot or suffer a lot--or die a little, even. - Daniel Berrigan”                                        --from the serigraph greetings (1967)- Corita



Links to Information on Corita

Corita Art Center

What we do is very little, but it is like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that little and increased it. He will do the rest. What we do is so little we may seem to be constantly failing. But so did He fail. He met with the apparent failure on the Cross. But unless the seed fall into the earth and die, there is no harvest. And why must we see results? Or work is to sow. Another generation will be reaping the harvest.
Dorothy Day, 1940 


More than a fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: "Give them something to eat." [Mark 6:37]
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gosel) Chapter 1, Section 49, 2013



poem / lyrics, which I feel capture the sentiments of my serigraph

"Though I'm just a boy with some bread and a couple of fishes,
 I'll give them to this hungry crowd and to the one who knows my wounds and wishs.
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 need
Thanks be to God and blessings on all who labor.
Thanks be to God and justice for all our neighbors.
This is my prayer.

Come all who hunger and thirst and bring what you have to share,
It may seem so little at first, but soon there'll be plenty there.
For the one who made heaven and earth, the one who brought forth the waters
Has given the fruits  of the earth to all life's sons and daughters.
Though I'm just a boy with some bread and a couple of fishes
I'll give them to this hungry crowd and to the one who knows my wounds and wishes
This is my prayer. This is my prayer." 

-- Song Lyrics by David Farley (Echo Park United Methodist Church, LA)



Image Documentation 

An original, hand-printed serigraph published by the artist with collaboration of master printer James F. Butterfield II at Aurora Serigraphic Studio, Van Nuys, California.

Completion: November 4, 2003.

Edition Size: 250

Dimensions: Image: 24" x 36"
Paper: 30" x 42"

Paper: Coventry Rag Vellum White GSM

Colors: 54 colors printed




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