Theme/Style – Modernism, Magic Realism, Surrealism, still life, figurative art, murals
Media – Oils, watercolors, drawings, lithography
Artistic Focus – Jean Swiggett was a masterful draftsman whose career spanned WPA-era murals, to Realist figurative and still life works, to Magic Realism. What is quite interesting about Swiggett’s oeuvre is his ability to juxtapose the real and imagined in his compositions, encouraging the viewer to contemplate their hidden meaning while also appreciating their simple beauty and vitality.
Career Highlights –
- Jean Donald Swiggett was born in Franklin, Indiana in 1910, and as a young child moved with his family to Long Beach, California. After junior college Swiggett enrolled in Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, and went on to obtain a degree in art and mathematics from San Diego State Teachers College in 1934.
- Swiggett then got a job with the Federal Art Project (F.A.P.) in Los Angeles, where he worked under Lorser Feitelson. With the Federal Art Project, and later with the U.S. Treasury Art Project (T.A.P.), Swiggett designed, painted or assisted on over 40 murals in public venues, working with both Paul Sample and Norman Chamberlain, assisting Chamberlain on the Huntington Park Post Office’s “History of California” murals and Sample on the Redondo Beach Post Office murals. Swiggett also created murals (along with fellow F.A.P. artist Ivan Bartlett) depicting “Industrial Activities in Long Beach” in egg tempera for his alma mater, Long Beach Polytechnic High School; and an oil on canvas mural in the U.S. Post Office in his home town of Franklin, Indiana.
- Swiggett was included in exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1935-1941, 1946, and 1950), the Laguna Beach Art Association (1937-1938), the Long Beach Art Association (1941, the Progressive Art Center of Southern California in Palm Springs and Laguna Beach (1940); and the San Francisco Art Association (1936-1938).
- He was also included in the first Independent Artists exhibition at Los Angeles’s Stendahl Galleries in 1936, along with Nicholas Brigante, Lorser Feitelson, Helen Lundeberg, Buckley MacGurrin, Ben Messick, Claire Van Scoy, and others. Swiggett also exhibited at the Jake Zeitlin Galleries in Los Angeles in 1937, displaying his decorative maps.
- Also in 1937 Swiggett’s work was in exhibitions at the Foundation for Western Art in Los Angeles, one of which, a show of “younger and more experimental painters,” included Modernists such as Everett Gee Jackson, Jane Berlandina, Tom Craig, Robert Gilbert, Robert Kennicott, Warren Newcombe, Henry Sugimoto and many others.
- Swiggett received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, in 1939. That same year his Magic Realist painting “Ivan in Armor” (depicting fellow muralist Ivan Bartlett) was exhibited at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, and he also created seven large murals for the Exposition.
- During the early 1940s Swiggett was an art instructor at USC and at Washington State College in Pullman, WA; he was also one of a group of artists commissioned to decorate ships at the Newport News shipyard in Virginia.
- After finishing his service in the military in 1946, Swiggett took a teaching position at San Diego State College (later San Diego State University), where he was to remain for 31 years until his retirement in 1977.
- He exhibited with the San Diego Art Guild (1948-1990), the Denver Art Museum, Colorado (1951 and 1952), and in Indiana at the Hoosier Salon in Carmel (1948-1952) and the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis (1948, 1949).
- Swiggett pursued further studies at Claremont Graduate University from 1950 to 1952, and throughout the rest of his life was active in a number of arts organizations including the La Jolla, Laguna Beach, and San Francisco Art Associations.
- An avid world traveler, Swiggett visited Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. When he toured Western Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, the preponderance of female nudes inspired him to paint mail nudes, which he felt had been neglected.
- Swiggett was included in exhibitions at the Downey Museum of Art in 1972, the Laguna Beach Museum of Art in 1975 and 1982, the Riggs Galleries in San Diego in 1981, Ankrum Gallery in Los Angeles in 1983, the first San Diego Masters Show at the San Diego Art Institute in 1985. In 1987, “Jean Swiggett: Portrait, 1938-1987,” a retrospective exhibition of Swiggett’s paintings and drawings, was held at the San Diego State University Art Gallery.
- Jean Donald Swiggett passed away in San Diego in 1990.
- In 2012 his mural study “Exploration and Mining,” for a post office in Kellogg, Idaho, was included in the exhibition “America @ Work: New Deal Murals in New London and Beyond” at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, Connecticut. His work is in the collections of the San Diego Museum of Art and the Long Beach Museum of Art.
Selection of Works by this Artist
Bibliographic references are available upon request.