St. Louis Art Legend

Frank Schwaiger turns shapes into beautiful works of art.

By Michelle Mastro

Portrait photography by Colin Miller/Strauss

Artwork photography courtsey of Bruno David Gallery


Longtime St. Louis artist Frank Schwaiger, whose various sculptures appear across the city, transforms shapes into art. “I work with circles and grid systems, adding the power of color to create images of fun, frolic, focus and finesse,” says Schwaiger. Open to many different mediums over his artistic career, Schwaiger has worked in acrylic paint, varnishes, old rags “or whatever comes to hand,” he says. “As a sculptor, I use limestone, marble, granite, wood, steel and bronze.”

But oftentimes it’s the materials he uses that reveal their hidden potentials as he shifts attention from painting to sculpture and back again. “I am currently working on an 8-foot granite monolith in my sculpture studio,” he explains. “Sculpture takes a year or two to evolve, and any inspiration comes from within me as I learn about the possibilities implicit in the stone. The stone leads the way. It is a journey.”

However, the artist’s ideas of what his art should be has shifted over time. “My work has evolved over the last 60 years toward simplicity of form and image.” But why focus so much on seemingly unassuming shapes? For Schwaiger, the answer comes from looking back to human history and thinking critically about the viewer’s psychology. “Circles and grids are an intrinsic human fascination,” he says, listing the moon, sun and wheel or grid systems like chess as charming audiences for ages. Viewers enjoy the shapes and grids, and this is why Schwaiger’s work has held such a deep sway over fans.

Part artist and part philosopher, he points out that the power of his work lies in its ability to be interpreted in many ways. “They see what they see,” he says of his audiences. In other words, viewers of his art can find myriads of meaning in his smooth sculptures or busy paintings radiating bright colors. In his paintings, storms of shapes fly across the flat surface, but seem to have their own weight and personality, or hectic lines offer rough grid systems intersecting the shapes at times. “The brain projects a meaning,” he says. “My paintings are like Zen or meditation for the viewer,” he reflects. “Creating images as portals into the mind is my goal as an artist.”

Currently, Schwaiger is creating Laskey Archive on Hickory Street as part of the Columbia Foundation for Visual Arts. He established the foundation in 2003 to house the 5,000 works of art executed by himself and Professor Emeritus Leslie Laskey, Washington University School of Architecture, (now deceased). This archive will open July 2, 2023.