Last year internationally acclaimed artist John A. Schweitzer donated 60 works of art to his alma mater, Western University in London, Ontario. Western, which has been collecting Schweitzer’s work since the 1990s, now holds the largest collection of the collagist’s oeuvres. Schweitzer, 69, says this philanthropic gesture was his way of giving back.

“Western played a formative role in my career. With ambitions to be a writer, I took a summer course in visual art which changed my life. I soon realized that I could incorporate my literary interests into the visual art experience,” says Schweitzer.

After graduation, the Simcoe, Ontario native ventured abroad before ultimately settling in Montreal. In 1984, he opened the Galerie John A. Schweitzer which featured both Canadian and international art. As a gallerist, he was making a name for himself. But after 10 years of exhibiting the work of artists like Haring, Mapplethorpe, and Warhol, Schweitzer decided to take a major leap of faith following a conversation with his mentor and “spiritual father”, artist Robert Motherwell.

“In 1989 I met the Greenwich-based expressionist (Motherwell) in Provincetown, walking on the beach near his summer house. ‘You are a visual artist, John’ he said to me upon viewing my work. So, with his endorsement, I closed my gallery in 1994 despite its flourishing. And at the ripe age of 40, I decided to pursue my art full time, and never looked back,” he explains.

Since that seaside epiphany, Schweitzer has produced 15 protean series in a style that is entirely his own. His visual language may be attributed to an ocular condition he lives with called antimetropia. “I’m long-sighted in one eye and short-sighted in the other — which balances my eyesight. And so, my work is truly a manifestation of my gaze,” Schweitzer reveals.

Organized in thematic series, Schweitzer's subject matter over the years has ranged from Virgil's Aeneid in Sunt Lacrimae Rerum (1991) to 9/11 terrorism in Fresh Kills: XXIV Elegies (2003). His contributions to the world of collage have earned him accolades such as the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, and an induction into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA) in 2003.

Schweitzer, who describes himself as someone “always focused on the future” is currently in the production stage of his latest series, Nero, which explores the properties of the Italian word for black and the life of the emperor of the same name. As an admirer of ancient Rome, Schweitzer’s Nero merges historical themes with the Coronavirus pandemic, exploring notions of evil and the darkness before the light. This latest series of 30 collages will be exhibited in 2022.

“Lux Perpetua!” Schweitzer proclaims.