Friday, September 14, 2012

John August Swanson as graphic designer: 1972 Cesar Chavez United Farm Workers Poster

John August Swanson, Struggle for Justice: 40th Anniversary Poster, 2012/1972
© John August Swanson 2012

“It is my hope that this art work [my posters] might serve as an inspiration and a tool for those working to organize those who have been displaced and marginalized by economic injustice into compassionate communities empowered to implement justice and  bring peace.” —John August Swanson

The Dordt College department of art and design is busy preparing and anticipating the next art exhibition featuring the Richard and Helen De Vos collection of John August Swanson's iconic advent series of serigraphs. The exhibition will be installed in the Campus Center Art Gallery from October 10 to December 2.

In addition, we have become inspired by Swanson graphic design work. Compared to Swanson's serigraphs very little is known about his social activist posters. Illustrated above is John's recently reissued poster from 1972 titled "Struggle for Justice” which is a 40th anniversary commemorative piece. Of import is that the poster has as much relevance today as it did in 1968 and the poster is a significant reminder that challenges still exist for racial and economic justice in our society.

About the poster Swanson writes the following on his website:

The poster, STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE, was first created forty years ago, in 1972 to help raise money for the United Farm Workers. The original printing was limited to one hundred posters. 
As I recall, the union provided me with a statement from Cesar Chavez’s 1968 speech. My idea for the poster design was to use his words to create a “newspaper,” a black and white montage of photos and lettering. For the lettering, I used a variety of typefaces; many of these were rubber-stamp alphabets I had carved from rubber erasers and other materials. His words became my “headlines,” accompanied by images showing the struggles of the United Farm Workers in our agricultural fields and the attacks from the giant agribusiness corporations. I also used other photos depicting labor, race, and economic struggles throughout the 20th century in the United States. I interspersed the words and photo images, hoping that this would be an interesting design and would best communicate the message of our continuing struggle to bring justice for all.

In 2011, I felt the message still resonated with strong grass-root movements: the energetic actions of the Occupy Movement, the growing awareness and participation of the Global Warming and Environmental Movements, the struggle of workers to protect their labor unions, and the renewed effort of the Peace Movement. I decided the poster should be reprinted. The original poster was revised with new images, revised spacing, and adapted text. Now, I hope this poster will bring Chávez’s powerful words to students, to union workers, and to those who struggle for justice. I hope this work will encourage, strengthen, and empower those who seek a just and peaceful world.

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