The Wrightwood Arts & Wine Festival will feature works of glass, neon and sculpture from three generations of artists, including David Svenson and Kazumi Svenson, the couple’s 13 year-old son, Shion Svenson, and David’s father John Svenson. The Svenons have a rich and renowned artistic history, and have been sharing their work both locally and internationally for decades.
The elder artist, John Svenson, is responsible for the well-known work “Ranchero,” a 22-foot-long wood statue located outside the art building of the Los Angeles County Fair. Svenson was part of the post-World War II group of artists that included Sheets, Sam Maloof, Albert Stewart, and Karl Benjamin. He is the artist behind many local works of art on prominent display, such as “Bull Wall,” a brick relief sculpture for the Fine Arts Building at the Fair; local founder, George Chaffey, a bronze outside the Civic Center in Upland; a relief in an Ontario International Airport terminal, and many others. Svenson favored working with natural materials, especially wood, and was influenced by world travels with his wife and his friendship with Tlingit Indians in Alaska, as well as his mentors Albert Stewart and Millard Sheet. The artist passed away in 2016 at the age of 92, but his work continues to awe and inspire.
John Svenson’s son, David Svenson, is best known for his work in glass and neon, but also has deep roots in the tradition of wood sculpture. David has worked at Alaska Indian Arts where he teaches woodcarving techniques of the Tlingit Indian tradition. He also experiments with different ways of making neon and combining it with other materials such as wood glass and concrete, and has been teaching neon as an art form for over 31 years. He teaches sculpture at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and has done many workshops teaching neon at Pilchuck Glass School, in Washington, Corning Glass School, and Urban Glass in New York as well in Japan.
“I approach my art from two traditions,” David explains, “First is my appreciation and practice of Northwest Coast totemic wood carving that I was thrown into and nurtured at an early age. Second is the practice of glass working combined with ‘neon.’ The ‘neon’ is more about its mix with my natural surroundings than, say, Time Square.” As far as his muses, David credits indigenous culture and the natural world that surrounds him. The abundance of reptiles around his home in Wrightwood inspired his “Desert Night Lizard” series, which visitors will have the opportunity to see at his upcoming exhibit.
Married to David, Kazumi Svenson, who hails from Sendai, Japan, has been a glass blower and a neon artist for the past 30 years, and has taught furnace glass blowing at “Hot Glass Studio” in Tokyo, Japan. where she first began her glass career. “I was mystified by the way light interacts with glass,” says Kazumi, “and this led to illuminating my works from within using neon. I moved to America to pursue the possibilities.” Her work is influenced by evolution and how humankind can respectfully live side by side with the flora and fauna that surrounds us. “This leads me to many of the traditions and ways of life from my home country,” the artist adds.
David and Kazumi share an interest in Kokeshi dolls, small Japanese wooden folk sculptures that are turned on a lathe and simply painted. Different villages in Japan have different styles but generally they capture a beauty and preciousness in simple form and color that is the essence of Japanese aesthetic. The pair has collaborated on this art form by subverting it, using bolder material and a technique that involves painting with light, while still honoring the classic form. “By combining two very different traditions, one with luminous light and one deeply rooted in the warmth of the Japanese countryside, we challenge your open mindedness,” says David.
Son of David and Kazumi, Shion is a 13-year-old artist who has been raised in the community of Wrightwood. He is a keen observer of his surroundings, and has grown up interacting with his parent’s artful friends. He is primarily following the path of music at this time. His parents call him “one of the many kids in our community who will guide us into the future with curiosity, creativity and respect for our surroundings.”
The Svenson family exhibit will open at the Wrightwood Arts Center (6020 Park Drive) during the Wrightwood Arts & Wine Festival from 10am to 5pm, Saturday, May 20th. The Wrightwood Arts & Wine Festival draws thousands of visitors each year to a scenic mountain setting, where its array of regional art, food, poetry, and wine keep visitors returning year after year. Come experience the creativity of the Svenson family in the beautiful community that has inspired so much of their one-of-a-kind artwork.