John David Anderson (Nov. 25, 1932 – Nov. 13, 2011) was a painter who combined surrealism and abstract expressionism to create paintings that embody automatism or “spontaneous painting”, with an emphasis on the inner psychic realms of the mind. Anderson was mentored by Gordon Onslow Ford, who was a part of the 1930’s Paris surrealist group surrounding Andre Breton.
The Early Years
Born in 1932, in Chicago, Anderson resolved to be a painter in 1954 after returning to the Midwest from serving in the Navy during the Korean War. After studying at the University of Illinois he traveled to study at Mexico City College and finally made his way to California to study at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. He would meet his mentor, Gordon Onslow Ford, in a chance encounter in the 1960’s, that would change his life forever.
Onslow Ford and his wife, Jacqueline, would dine one evening at Manka’s Restaurant in Inverness where Anderson was a dishwasher. The owner had let John display one of his paintings in the restaurant and it caught the eye of the surrealist painter. He invited the young Anderson to sit and have coffee that evening and later to a luncheon at Onslow Ford’s home on the Inverness ridge. That would eventually lead to an invitation to build a home and studio on an acre of the land, with the stipulation that Anderson could stay there as long as he was an artist, practicing his art.
On the ridge, he would meet the likes of Alan Watts, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Bowman, Roberto Matta, Ruth Asawa, and J.B. Blunk, among other poets, painters, and thinkers. He would live and paint and eventually rest forever on that acre of land at the top of the ridge overlooking Tomales Bay.
Line Circle Dot
The Mentor’s mantra of “line, circle, dot;” is what Anderson dove into after connecting with Onslow Ford. He believed that the straight line, the circle, and the dot are the elemental marks of painting. Anderson wrote in his book “Beginner’s Beginning”, “That they are the only marks that exist at the deepest level and fastest speed of painting. In their simplicity and directness they are impersonal, and because of this they have the potential to offer insights into other levels of being I haven’t experienced. Using them in a lively individual way enhances my chances of penetrating deeper in the psyche, where I divine for new images.” A prolific painter, he would, until late 2003, coinciding with the death of Onslow Ford and the onset of Parkinson’s Disease, paint and create nearly 500 images.
The Inner Solar System
Anderson would take and build on “line, circle, dot” and expand upon “a solar system metaphor” to create what he called “my inner earth.” This was his ego consciousness, dreams, unconsciousness and a deeper layer of the psyche he called the “primordial landscape.” He wrote that “The exploration of myself through deep painting leads me to conclude that the structure of my mind is similar to that of the solar system. At the core of this psychic solar system is what I call “Radiant Self,” which symbolizes my inner-sun. This is my energy source, my light, and my gravity. It is a spark from the original fire of creation, and the planets and moons of my being rotate around it”. These paintings he created document that wild landscape and allow us to experience his discoveries and insights into other levels of being.
From that experience of a year of spontaneous painting, he would create his “Beginning Image” which he called “Sime World.”
SIME – Simultaneous ME
“Cradled in deep space and warmed by the sun, from earth we see heavens in their spectacular display. We have been nurtured here and protected by some extraordinary fate. I am in awe at the wonders of creation and the mystery of living, breathing and being. That awe is a form of reverence, which for me is the heart of artistic creation.”
The image of Sime World was a very important image to Anderson. It represented the birth of his creative self and was the primary source of all of his succeeding paintings. The image he said came from a place that was always connected to the primordial center that never changes, yet was the beginning of everything. It would create an image in his mind that was spherical, that would radiate out from the center and this is what he would paint. He would bring light to what was invisible and ultimately give us a vision of another world.
In her 1994 Dissertation presented to the Faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies, Fariba Bogzaran, writes “Through his cosmological paintings, Anderson has come to an awareness of being in a space where the small self and the Original Self (intended to be similar to Jung’s idea of the Self) hold a consciousness in an image he calls SIME. SIME is conscious of the two paradoxical poles of the psyche and is the go between the known and the unknown, a consciousness that simultaneously witnesses both the Original Self and the small self. Anderson contributes his growth of consciousness through his paintings. One painting leads him to the next, showing him the way into the deeper layers of the psyche – where images expressed are part of the collective consciousness.”
The Later Years
In the early 90’s he would meet Fariba Bogzaran, an artist, lucid dream researcher and faculty member at John F. Kennedy University through her relationship with Onslow Ford.
In 1998, Onslow Ford and Bogzaran along with Robert Antoine, would co-found the non-profit organization, Lucid Art Foundation in order to explore the relationship between art, consciousness and nature through art exhibitions, publications and seminars for artists. The foundation took an interest in Anderson’s work partly due to the connection with Onslow Ford and largely on its’ own merits.
With Bogzaran, Anderson modified an unpublished manuscript he had written in 1978, and created a talk which he gave to students from JFK University, School or Arts and Consciousness. A book, “Beginner’s Beginning” came from those talks and was published in 2001.
In 2003, Anderson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease after experiencing symptoms that would force him to stop painting.
In the Spring of 2008, Roland Weinstein of the Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco would take an interest in Anderson’s body of work. He would be part of a group show in September of that year, and in August of 2009, would have a one-man show, retrospective, of his lifetime devotion to his art. That relationship would sell over 100 pieces over the next five years.
In an art review by Garrett Caples in the San Francisco Bay Guardian written in August of 2009, Caples writes “John Anderson is among the great unknown painters of the 20th century. This show is the first opportunity to see most of these works, but hopefully not the last for a painter who merits the designation of “master.””
Anderson peacefully passed away in his home on November 13, 2011. His ashes were spread behind his studio on what would have been his 79th birthday on November 25th.
In the Summer of 2012, three of Anderson’s paintings will be on display at ArtHamptons in New York with Portico Gallery, New York.