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 Seward Johnson  (1930 - )

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Lived/Active: District Of Columbia      Known for: sculptor-realist figure

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Ad Code: 3
Seward Johnson
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known for his life-size, super-real sculptures of human figures, Seward Johnson creates work that can be seen in corporate and private collections as well as city streets around the world.

Born in 1930, J. Seward Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson medical products company, attended the University of Maine, in Orono, for one year. He worked for a time in the family business, before serving during the Korean War in the United States Navy. Johnson is a past president of the International Sculpture Center, Washington, DC. He founded the Johnson Atelier Foundry and Technical Institute, in Princeton, New Jersey, to aid young sculptors. He is president of an oceanographic research institution in Florida; publisher of a science magazine; and founder of an off-Broadway theater in New York City. Johnson has served as an Adjunct Professor and Artist-in-Residence at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

In the late 1990s. Johnson created a series of life-size realistic figures inspired by the Impressionist Masters including Manet, Renoir, and Van Gogh. In November, 1999, the city of Berlin, Germany hosted an exhibition of his life-size three-dimensional impressions of paintings.

Originally a painter, Johnson became a sculptor in 1968. Perhaps one hundred seventy of Johnson's realistic bronze sculptures of figures engaged in the ordinary activities of the day are placed in country (fishing in a stream) and city street settings (sitting on a bench looking in a briefcase), as if part of the passing parade, causing double-takes by citizens wondering if they are real people and, if not, what they are doing there.

He sculpts his life-size, 3-D creations, cast in bronze and painted with automobile paint, at his studio in the New Jersey countryside near Trenton. Grounds For Sculpture, a 22-acre sculpture/park museum is close by, at the old New Jersey Fairgrounds in an industrial area outside Trenton. The 11-year old complex includes about 200 sculptures, including work by Marisol, Red Grooms and Magdalena Abakanowicz, of the 200, 18 are Johnson's. Included are his version of Monet's Garden at Sainte-Adresse (1867) re-created by the side of a lake, and Manet's Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe (1863).

Through sculpting, Johnson believes that this is how one can truly become "intimate with a painting," even well-known, closely studied paintings. "Some (of these paintings) are icons in our subconscious, and I wanted to give them another dimension," explains Johnson. "The painter took a three-dimensional image and made it two-dimensional. We're doing the opposite."

In September 2003, his work was featured at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. "Beyond the Frame: Impressionism Revisited, The Sculptures of J. Seward Johnson Jr." featuring 18 works created for the exhibit.

More than two hundred of his life-size bronze figures are in corporate collections like Dial, Commerz Bank, Nike, Arthur Andersen, and The Trammell Crow Company, as well as private collections in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. Public collections include Rockefeller Center, New York City, and Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver, Canada. A seventy-foot high aluminum sculpture, The Awakening, is on long-term exhibition in Haines Point Park, Washington, D.C

Maria Puente, "In Sculptor's Hands, Art Imitates Art" USA Today, August 22, 2003


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