Completed: November, 1997
Image size: 22½ “ x 30½”
Edition Size: 250 Prints
Paper: Lana Royal, 100% cotton rag, acid free, mouldmade in France, Classic White
Media: Serigraph, 50 colors printed




Artist’s Notes

All my life I have loved gatherings of people where the spirit of celebration and dancing thrives. When I was young, I went to dance troupe performances when they came to Los Angeles. The music and movements, the colors and costumes, drew me in. In time, I began to make sketches of what I saw. I took in the ethnic dances from the Middle East, Russia, Mexico, Sweden, Africa, East Asia, India, and the sacred dances of the Native Americans. I tried to learn everything I could about them. I love the whole array of dance performance: ballet, modern dance, jazz–and especially the circus.

Celebration (Acrylic painting, 1997)

I started the acrylic painting of CELEBRATION in 1996, putting together a composite scene of every dance that has given me joy. I lit the scene with candles and starlight. It made the people’s beautiful garments glow. From the mosaic floor to the tree-like arches that form the roof of the great hall, a mystical shimmer began to enter the picture. Some sad events occurred in my family and interrupted the work. I could only work sporadically. I found that, even with my misfortunes, I had to keep up my hope and courage. Going back to the painting, I think, helped me understand the events in my own life better. When I finally finished the piece in February of 1997, I looked on it as one of my favorite paintings.

I wanted to continue developing this image as a serigraph edition. I chose to make the print larger, developing and enhancing the figures, and the scene. The changes grew through the slow, careful process of stencil making. I drew a separate stencil for each of the fifty colors printed that make up this serigraph. The printed stencils build up layers of colors and bring depth and a rich chiaroscuro of darkness and light. The printer I worked with, Jim Butterfield, and I began the process in April 1997 and we finished it in early November. It has been an absorbing and rewarding task. I am happy to present to you my newest work.

John August Swanson
November 1, 1997


A Reflection:

Do you hear the faint sounds of music?  The distant thump of bass notes in your ears?  Fear nothing.  Want for nothing.  Here is freedom; so follow it.  Climb the slope.  Scoop lights from the starry night.  Step out of darkness and squinting, enter where candle-flame makes every color glow.  The rhythm of the music grows and swells and echoes the drumbeat of your heart. Hypnotic this.

The cadence gets inside your body.  Repetition of some haunting tonal pattern throbs behind your eyes.  Enter the dance of life.  Join hands and close the broken circle.  You’ll catch the cadence.  The movement is regular as pulse.

Step-pause.  Slide-pause.  Step-pause.  Turn-and-glide-and-step-pause.  Halting.  Stepping.  Gliding.  Turning.

The eyes adjust to candle flames lapping at shadows thrown against the walls.  Horn and harp play off each other.  Flute and lute make rivers of sound.  The pool of patterns under foot turns liquid.  In the flicker of flames and repeated patterns, the spirits swim into our memory, the holy ancestors come to join us.  A violin bleats and shudders and the numbing repetition of our steps become like those of every circle, dervish, reel, horah that have laced together generations.

The drumming of feet reaches far beyond the glowing circle.  It reaches to embrace the dark landscape and the jeweled sky.  The sound pulls everything to the holy center.  And there we pray.

-Gertrud Mueller Nelson
Artist and lecturer on Myth and Ritual.