"I was attracted to art, but Christ was looking for me through it."
“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” ― Michelangelo
Cody Swanson is not quite what one expects when imagining a professional sculptor. Whereas some take a lifetime to master the intricate craft, Swanson, 36, has been honored as a master for over a decade. His prodigious career has been its own faith journey, one that he practices from one masterpiece to the next.
Michelangelo inspired countless artists with his famous quote, featured above. For Swanson, however, it is not just the sculpture waiting in the marble, but an encounter with God. In a 2013 interview with Aleteia’s Italian edition, the artist described such encounters in simple terms:
“I was attracted to art, but Christ was looking for me through it,” assures Cody.
Swanson’s career has spurred his vocation as a sacred artist at every turn. Born in Ohio to a family of Pentecostals, he was always struck by a lack of sacred images in Protestant churches. His natural artistic talent brought him to study at the Florence Academy of Art, in Italy, where he would eventually teach.
It was at the Florence Academy of Art that Swanson met his wife, Alina. Together, the couple explored their budding Catholic faith through the study of sculpture. He explained:
“We spent many hours in churches, and from there we started to think deeper,” recalls Cody. But above all, he explains, “the thing that struck me is the presence of Christ in the Church through the Eucharist. In fact, in Protestant churches it is seen that a part is missing. Only Scripture counts, and therefore I did not feel a living presence.”
Cody went on to note that the pair came to realize the value of art for prayer. At the time of this epiphany, Swanson called the notion an “absolute novelty.” He expressed how this new perspective changed the way he approached his sculpting:
“Before I made art to sell; now I know that through it I can make visible an invisible reality. For example, an angel is a real but hidden presence, like many other mysteries of faith, such as the Eucharist. But we need images, to remember history, because this helps faith and prayer.”
Theology in art
Swanson’s style is steeped in the figurative, which is the only form of art he can imagine. He noted that figurative art is pivotal to his vocation as a sacred artist, as it gives a clear representation of the subject. For those viewing sacred art it is of pre-eminent importance that they know what they’re looking at.
In an interview with the Epoch Times, Swanson expanded on this sentiment, noting that he can achieve a more personal figure through the use of idealization. Idealization is an artistic element that seeks to create an ideal form for a holy character. Swanson explained to Epoch Times:
“There was a theological reason, … which in the light of the incarnation in the Catholic Church is very important, because Christ is the son of God, Our Lady was preserved from original sin. They shouldn’t look like any ordinary individual,” he said.
These days, Swanson has left the field of education in order to better focus on his studio. His most recent sculptures include life-sized figures of Sts Peter and Paul, and a wonderfully unique figure of St. Luke posed while painting the Madonna.
Although he’s not a professor anymore, he gave an interview with Catholic Art Institute, earlier this year,that might as well be a master class. to see the interview and learn about the intensive thought process that goes into Swanson’s pieces.
Click here to explore Cody Swanson’s esteemed catalog of fine sacred art.