Are there real clothes on the sculptures?
No. Surprisingly each sculpture is entirely bronze. The realism of the textures and details is the hallmark of Johnson’s art, and this detailing is achieved with hours and hours of intense labor. Seward Johnson begins each bronze with a l2 inch tall “sketch” in clay, and then enlarges this to life scale in clay. Often delicate textures, such as the skin, can be made more real with fabrics pressed into the clay at this stage. Sometimes articles of clothing are stiffened with a resin and used in the mold process, but there is no clothing on top of, or under the bronze, in the sculpture that you see today. Other times clay clothing is sculpted onto the figure by the artist using fine-edged wooden and metal tools. As the figures are sawed into many parts for the casting process, there are dozens of roughly welded areas when the parts are reassembled in bronze. At this stage, the artist must replace many of the fine textures; a corduroy, a tweed, a cable knit sweater pattern, with an electric tool that is much like a fine dentist’s drill. This is the most time consuming part of creating these bronzes. It takes up to one year to create one sculpture.
Who does the artist used as models?
When Seward Johnson is ready to enlarge a piece from the small gesture sketch into the life size version, he will seek out just the perfect face and body type for the story of the sculpture. When he was crafting a gardener, he met and talked with gardeners and landscape companies. He wanted a weathered face with sun wrinkles, and the working hands of a gardener. He used an actual police officer to model for his work "Time's Up," which depicts an officer writing a ticket.
How does he get the unusual colors?
Seward Johnson has been developing unique chemistry for the colors of his sculptures for years. In an effort to better fool the eye, and allow the pieces to blend successfully into our colorful world, he began to add colors about ten years ago. The skin on the pieces remains a traditional bronze patina, and the current opaque colors are achieved using the same type of advanced technical pigments that are used on airplanes. They are quite resistant to climate conditions, and each sculpture is also coated with a thin film of incrylac and a final coating of wax for added protection.
Haven’t I seen these somewhere before?
If you are a frequent traveler, it is likely that you have seen Johnson’s work in other places. New York City has several very publicly sited works, as do Washington DC, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Paris, London, Osaka, and even Istanbul. Cities will often arrange an exhibition of Johnson’s bronzes to bring levity to a downtown area, and museums frequently host exhibits on their grounds and parklands. You may also have seen photos of the sculptures in Architectural Digest, New Yorker Magazine, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Life Magazine, and others. Johnson has also appeared on the Tonight Show with several of his pieces. The Today Show and CNN have also produced a couple of interesting stories on the artist.
What is Seward Johnson like?
Seward Johnson is 80 years of age, and has been married for over 30 years to his wife, a novelist. The Johnsons have two grown children and live in Hopewell, New Jersey and on the island of Nantucket. Seward Johnson had the unusual experience of growing up as the heir to one of America’s largest fortunes as the grandson of the founder of Johnson & Johnson. As someone who could have spent a life of leisure, Johnson is quite actively involved in both his art and an array of other interests. He was the President of a large oceanographic research institution in Florida, the publisher of a science magazine, and the founder of an off-Broadway theater in New York. He is the past President of the International Sculpture Center of Washington, DC, and remains a vital force in encouraging and assisting with young sculptors careers by having created the Johnson Atelier Technical Institute of Sculpture. The renowned art park Grounds For Sculpture, 37 acres of sculpture and lush landscaping, was the brainchild of Seward Johnson.
Personally, Seward Johnson is a charming and philosophical man, with a tendency toward irreverent wit. He loves to anonymously loiter around his public sculptures and make negative remarks to fellow viewers of the art to see what the real response to his work is! He loves to get into the position of having the stranger unwittingly defend the sculpture to this “hostile” art critic.
Are these one of a kind, or does the artist make several castings?
Seward Johnson will make only seven castings (and the Artist’s Proof) of a design. Therefore, there are now many sold out editions. When the full seven are purchased by collectors, the artist celebrates the ceremonial destruction of the mold.
Is there a book on this artist?
There is a monograph on Seward Johnson’s work titled “Celebrating the Familiar” as well as numerous exhibition catalogues. If you have difficulty locating copies, you can call the artist’s Curator in Santa Monica, CA and order them. The phone number and address are noted below.
This 90-day exhibition is the result of a generous agreement between Rowan University and international not-for-profit The Sculpture Foundation which owns the entire collection of Johnson sculptures through a gift by the artist.
For additional information:
Paula A. Stoeke
The Sculpture Foundation
2525 Michigan Ave
Santa Monica CA 90404