Interview: Cody Swanson
Cody is an award-winning sculptor who has completed commissions for private and public spaces around the world, including the United States, Italy, and Slovenia. His hope as a sculptor is that “the fruit of his labor will give glory to God and reflect His truth into the hearts of many.” To learn more about Cody visit: http://www.codyswansonsculpture.com/
Our Special Interview with Cody Swanson
We would like to thank Cody for this interview and the special “behind the scenes” look at the creation of his new sculpture depicting St Josemaria Escriva and Blessed Alvaro del Portillo:
Q: Please tell us about yourself and your experience as an artist and sculptor.
A: I was born in Minneapolis and raised in Hawaii, at 18 I decided to travel to Florence, Italy to pursue classical training in sculpture and painting and never left. I met my wife here and we converted, were baptized and married by the Archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, and now have 4 beautiful children. It is a tremendous blessing to have been called to serve the Church with my vocation as a sculptor and father; I believe sacred art and family are absolutely essential for evangelization in our largely secularized world and I intend to keep fighting.
Q: Many people continue to have very romanticized ideas about the lives of artists. Can you describe what a typical workday is like for you?
A: Michelangelo said if anyone knew how hard he worked, they could not bear look at the finished piece.
Sculpture requires absolute dedication. Christ led a life of toil and there is no substitute for hard work, self-abandonment and above all else, faith. In offering everything to God, I pour my blood, sweat and tears into each piece and dedicate at least 10 hours of intense concentration a day to my craft. This is not only because I choose to maintain the highest standards, but I also have to support a young growing family.
Q: You recently completed a sculpture of St Josemaria Escriva and Blessed Alvaro del Portillo for the Campus Bio-Medico in Rome, Italy. How did this commission come about?
A: Prior to this work I completed another sculpture in marble for Campus BioMedico of Our Lady enthroned with the Christ child, ‘Sedes Sapientiae’. During this project President Felice Barela kindly asked that I submit a sketch for another competition for a relief depicting Beato Alvaro and Saint Escriva. The mock-up originally sent out with requests for a proposal pictured them standing casually in clerics. I instead chose to depict them kneeling in prayer with proper vestments, giving the work a more ‘liturgical’ character, and am very honored to have won the competition.
Q: Is the sculpture part of a bigger composition and for a specific space? Can you tell us a bit about the creation process, materials, etc.?
A: The work is intended for the sanctuary of the large central oratory of Campus BioMedico. The niche for the sculpture is directly beside the altar and is quite large, measuring 232cm x 143cm x 40cm. Initially, I modeled the sculpture in clay at 3/4 the final scale. I then casted it in plaster, and I’m now carving it in white stone originating from the L’Aquila region.
Q: What characteristics did you set out to capture and depict in the sculptures of St Josemaria and Blessed Alvaro?
A: The underlining essential trait of this composition is prayer, and I hoped to depict them as men of unmovable faith, leading us by kneeling in liturgical prayer. Individually, the beauty of Saint Escriva’s gaze and physiognomy has always moved me. The most subtle and minute characteristics exude a tremendous love for Christ, simultaneously conveying Christ’s love for us.
Beato Alvaro I admit was very challenging and it was wonderful becoming more acquainted with him. He has a gentle and sweet character, reinforced by his fortitude and solidity, which of course led Saint Escriva to coin his nickname “Saxum”. One of his most distinguishing features is his embracing smile that bare resemblance to the arms of Christ on the Cross.
Q: What did you use for inspiration: photos, texts, other artwork, etc.?
A: I watched many videos of them speaking, their physiognomy changed a great deal throughout the years so I needed to study their aging and depict them specifically prior to the death of Saint Escriva. There are many sculptures that were inspirational, Bernini’s Daniel in the Chigi Chapel of Santa Maria Del Popolo is a great example of sculpture depicting the action and urgency of prayer.
Q: How long did it take you to create this piece? Is it finished?
A: One solar year from the conception of a small sketch, to the completion of the stone carving. The definitive clay model took about 3 months, and the carving will be completed and installed this September.
Q: Is this your first time working on this subject matter: St Josemaria Escriva or Blessed Alvaro? What are some of your other experiences (working on these subjects)?
A: This is my first time, I believe it is also one of the first sculptures of Beato Alvaro and I hope to do many more.
Q: What do you hope that people, now and in the future, will learn from this particular artwork? How do you hope that it will move or inspire them?
A: This sculpture is not merely a stone effigy but more fully a symbol of what is truly present, but hidden. I hope the work will inspire prayer and remind participants that Saint Escriva and Beato Alvaro are with us, adoring Our Lord, and continually interceding for us.
Q: What has impacted you the most about St Josemaria’s life and/or teachings?
A: I’m always inspired by his love for Christ, Our Lady and the Church, and particularly his devotion to the Eucharist. His practicality and emphasis upon frequenting the sacraments with joy and simplicity have been a great impact and helped bring me into the Catholic Church.
Q: Will you share with us a favorite quote from St Josemaria and why it is meaningful to you?
A: These passages from ‘Christ is Passing By’ come to mind quite often especially in times of hardship. They are a great reminder to keep your priorities straight:
“If vocation comes first, if the star shines ahead to start us along the path of God’s love, it is illogical that we should begin to doubt if it chances to disappear from view. It might happen at certain moments in our interior life — and we are nearly always to blame — that the star disappears, just as it did to the wise kings on their journey. We have already realized the divine splendor of our vocation, and we are convinced about its definitive character, but perhaps the dust we stir up as we walk — our falls and weaknesses — forms an opaque cloud that cuts off the light from above” (Christ is Passing By, no. 34).
“If we do not lose faith, if we keep our hope in Jesus Christ who will be with us ‘until the consummation of the world,’ then the star reappears. And with this fresh proof that our vocation is real, we are conscious of a greater joy which increases our faith, hope and love” (Christ is Passing By, no. 35).
This article is intended for the free use of readers and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from the © St. Josemaria Institute (firstname.lastname@example.org). Images provided courtesy of © Cody Swanson.