Outsider Artist Tad Anderson’s Sublime Vision


“My idea about things in the West, it’s industrialized, it’s not perfect and beautiful…but what is tragic, or could be tragic, you make it a beautiful pattern into the landscape.” – Tad Anderson

Cosmic coincidence that I came upon a year-old Peter Schjeldahl review of a deKooning retrospective just prior to sitting down and writing about Laramie  “outsider” artist Tad Anderson?  Schjeldahl feels the same way about deKooning as I did when I first laid eyes on Anderson’s astounding work~~he must be amongst the most gifted artists in our state, and every work of his you see whets your appetite for more.

If Anderson created 100,000 paintings, it wouldn’t be enough. It wouldn’t be enough to satisfy Anderson, and if the public gains the good fortune to see his work, 100,000 paintings won’t be enough for them, either. It’s almost impossible to choose a single work that sums up Anderson’s immense talent, a talent displaying extraordinary use of color, composition, and multiple styles.

Remarkable, considering Anderson has schizophrenia, and “one or two high school art classes” as his sole formal training. Thirty-four years old, he’s been drawing in earnest for a decade. In conversation, Tad’s thoughts at first seem disordered, and he’s refreshingly blunt on the subject of art.

“Early on, I spent a year in Albuquerque watching New Mexico’s art scene—there’s so much crappy art for so much money. And I thought, “this is so dumb, I can do better than this, and why is it so overpriced, anyway?”

I came to understand Anderson is highly connected and disciplined about his work, relentless in his pursuit of quality. Talking with him was like getting yanked from a stupor.

Mental disorders are often linked with high intelligence and creativity, and can produce great works of art. Artists like Anderson have a gift: they rebuff prevalent artistic conceptions and introduce us to thrilling and revealing interpretations of reality.

“Artists who are good, all they are is incredibly intense people speaking from somewhere painfully, way inside,” Anderson said. “When I think of great artists I think of Dostoyevsky or Beethoven………the cult of Van Gogh is almost overdone now; he was a vibrant person, but I’m more into the Expressionists and Post-Impressionists. Van Gogh is good, but all his works I’ve seen pale in comparison to Vuillard or Bonnard or Braque, Klimt—-those people. They had dynamic minds. And that’s why people like art—because of dynamic, curious minds exploring the world.”

Laughing, Anderson adds that he usually avoids other artists almost completely. Down in Albuquerque he’d take the bus out to the edge of the Sandia Mountains, walk in a couple of miles to his tent, and camp with his dog. That’s when Anderson started making art.

The earmark of Anderson’s work is that there is no earmark, save each composition is sublimely expressionistic and thoroughly confident—Anderson’s works vary so widely they look to have been done by dozens of individual artists. Color and layering are feverish with energy, direction, emotion and certainty. The picture is “there,” but Anderson needs to see it, feel it, think it, “see it inside,” understand its angles, and follow its path.

Jackson’s Mark Nowlin, a long-time friend, mentor and supporter , says Anderson is concentrating on what he needs to do for his art. And, Anderson needs a gallery willing to take a risk on his extraordinary talent.

“If I was a gallery owner, Tad’s kind of art would scare me,” says Nowlin, who has supplied Anderson with rich Sennelier pastels. “What do you put out to the public when the art is changing so much? Out goes an image, then suddenly the work is the other way around. Art speaks for itself, whether you’re being an artist or you’re making a product. If you are paying rent you need to have product.”

Radiance, darkness, reveling in mixing materials—as Schjeldahl said of DeKooning, “he made a mad science of beauty.” Kneeling on the floor of his tiny basement studio, Anderson may turn out dozens of drawings a night.

A river scene is pink, smeared, foggy and mysterious—another drawing is easily recognizable as a winter landscape thick with aspens. Yet another is almost entirely black; the next dazzles with radiant sun and a tangle of sunflowers. Anderson keeps a cache of thousands of his own photographs, as well as a healthy supply of National Geographic images.

A driven explorer and climber, Anderson came upon a wild patch of sunflowers by the side of a dirt road in northeastern Colorado, shooting their heads towards a blazing, late summer sun. He’d drawn the scene more representationally, but that day, his feelings for the tumbled mass of flowers translated anew.

Sunrise on the Big Horn River (top of page), a rose-hued, hypnotic work, is Anderson’s interpretation of a mystery he senses in a photograph of that location.

“I’ve tried to draw it a lot, because it’s such a floating, hazy piece,” says Anderson. “ And you know, a smooth river and a sunrise—it’s such an evocative scene. As the night goes on, while I am drawing, I get more and more involved and emotional……the colors are obviously not specific to the moment, but to me it’s evocative of what I feel about standing on a big, flat river in the early morning.”

When Anderson wants to draw people, he’ll flip through his Nat Geo stash.

“I like drawing war photos,” he muses. “But you put it all into a pattern~~soldiers in Africa, the Middle East, or conflict areas~~and animals, spiders, insects too~~you take trudging civilians who are being misplaced, or whatever, and then you make it all into a pattern of a landscape so that it has force—-it’s pretty, but it’s not speaking TOO much. And I really like those drawings. There are photos I like more than others, and I’ll draw them 20-50 times over the course of years, and each drawing is different. I can’t do a drawing unless I’m emotionally involved in it. It’s an exacting experience.”

Nobody wants to be called a snob, but Anderson says he’s a complete snob about what good art, including writing, is.

“What I really love is books. I don’t really write, it’s too tough,” Anderson laughs. “But I’ve done some poetry. Instead of being fearful of the masters or trying to imitate what people say is good art, I just approach it as sketching—and then be my own judge, acknowledge what’s good or bad. But I trust what my art is.”

(This is the first of two posts on Tad Anderson and his art. ~TC)




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