Friday, January 21, 2011

Diary of a Mildly Anxious Constructivist

Diary of a Mildly Anxious Constructivist

By Tom Wachunas

Let’s start with a profile of Kevin Anderson, owner of Anderson Creative in downtown Canton. He’s the youngest of six kids, a daydreamer who failed art in high school and readily admits to having a hard time being human. Still, he manages his anxiety, loves his wife, and is amazed by his children. Even though he’s been broken and has needed to pawn stuff to survive, he acknowledges the wonderful people in his life and knows he is blessed, though he has work to do on his relationship with Jesus. Handy in the wood shop (aided no doubt by a love of geometry and trigonometry), he can fabricate anything but not fix everything and, after a hard day’s work, much prefers a bubble bath over a shower. He sees good satire and parody as High Art. And he wants us to know he’s not a snob, just introverted.

The wording of this assessment of the man is not of my making, though the order is. I gleaned it from the 30 dark blue T-shirts hanging in the west end of Anderson’s gallery. The shirts are one part – designated ‘Where I Live’ - of the current exhibit of his newest work. Each shirt is emblazoned with a white label bearing words in black Cambria font. Words that bare. You might call this part of the exhibit a variation on a theme of artist- wearing- heart- on - sleeve. A diary of sorts.

The show is called “Personal ‘Affects’”, with the subtitle, “New, Strangely Confessional Works.” As pointed out in the statement hanging on the wall, as well as on the gallery’s website, this is new territory for Anderson, and one that is, in his words, cathartic, liberating and awkward. As I read it, for him it’s awkward largely because he’s previously not been so forthcoming about either his Muse or his motives; cathartic and liberating because he gave himself permission to be so. For us it is, I think simply enough, intriguing and otherwise marvelous.

In the past, Anderson came to be known mostly for his impeccably crafted furniture pieces (some of which are on display here) that are both utilitarian household objects as well as delightfully personal, quirky sculptures. Their strange juxtapositions of textures and shapes brought to my mind the spirit of surrealist Rene Magritte. A similar visual sensibility is still evident in his new wall pieces, which are equally well-made vertical box constructions of wood, metal, and found props, and subtly reminiscent of small curio cabinets. Curious indeed. On one level they symbolize various mental and spiritual places where Anderson “dwells” or has dwelled – sometimes with anxiety or obsession - each with a title and accompanying statement about his being in those places. While not completely radical departures from his earlier body of work in a conceptual sense, they do present a distinctly evolved, sharpened focus on the contemplative and playful nature of his objects. Here we’re invited into a more intimate journey – that of the artist looking for a balance, or a peace. On the one hand there’s his ongoing passion for creating – an intensely private activity. On the other there’s his recognition of, and desire to sustain, what’s truly important in his life beyond art.

“Visually, I am drawn to the constructivist and postmodernist styles…,” Anderson tells us in his statement. No argument there, certainly. But when I consider the many ambiguities and negativities that are celebrated under the banner of “postmodernism,” it’s refreshing to see that Anderson’s new pieces are not dark, cryptic symbols of the postmodernist angst common in much of the art on the international scene. In fact his work is generously imbued with a spirit of self-deprecating humor. Anderson seems comfortable in his own skin. You’ll not find any heavy-handed apocalyptic declarations, impenetrable mysteries, or hopeless, suffering artist musings here. In his “Appropriate Emotional Armor,” for example, Anderson depicts his ‘house’ (life?) as a multi-storied fortress of sorts, though with controlled access. With whom will the artist share his inner life? Outside the shiny armored walls a little sign reads YOU! STAY OUT AND QUIT TALKING.

But the sign at the wooden user-friendly entrance reads BUT YOU! ARE AMAZING. WELCOME. PLEASE COME IN. I think he means us.

Photo, courtesy : “Appropriate Emotional Armor,” by Kevin Anderson, on view through January 29 at Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Ave. NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours Wednesday – Saturday 12:00 noon to 5 p.m.

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