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Duncan Robert Anderson

Lynda Wellhausen

“Forgotten, ancient forest deity greatly exaggerating past significance and influence to accidental, sympathetic but highly skeptical audience,” Duncan Anderson, 2010 54” x 15” x 11”

Figures at the edge of a vast universe face each other, themselves and ghosts both literal and metaphoric. An octopus schoolgirl clutches her harp as she waits for the bus (or viewer) to bare witness to her amputated state. A table dreams of it’s past as a tree. A 19th century American woman holds a rifle in one hand and her dress in the other while she awaits her husband’s return. Drawing heavily from Dada and Surrealism, Duncan Robert Anderson relishes in the freedom he feels such movements give him. “They’ve already blown the door off so that you can pretty much do anything,” he said.

Filled with existential obstacles, hybrid creatures and fateful flashes of the human journey, Anderson’s work often represents a singular moment within a larger narrative influenced by his southern origins, the occult, theater, and science fiction.  Coming from an academic background and environment, much of his work is literary and everything is a stand-in for a bigger idea. “I got to the point where if I wasn’t huddling in one corner of the art building wondering whether I existed or not because I was just taking philosophy class after philosophy class, I was like, how am I an artist? Because I’m not making art, I’m writing philosophy papers and it was like: I’m an astronaut I’ve never been to space, I don’t work for NASA, but I’m an astronaut,” he said.

“ ‘It’s not supposed to end like this. It doesn’t end like this.’ (blacking out at edge of winter Teutonic forest),” Duncan Anderson, 2009 11” x 24” x 6”

Anderson enjoys assigning the meaning of his choice. The figures he makes use of are intentionally void of associative meaning alone, so he can create his own symbolic language. A language he also explores in his collaboration with Chicago based theater company, Collaboraction. The theater is an interesting proving ground to Anderson because of the difference in value set compared to the gallery world. When work needs to stand on it’s own in an environment so different from a gallery space he finds the challenge daunting and fun. “I don’t really distinguish between using Cadmium red or this small bear, it’s interchangeable to me, but with the objects there is a bit more of these roles to cast; how to use these ‘actors,” he said.

Although theater influences his microcosms, it is not wholly narrative and must work on a visual level first and foremost for him.  Even in the organized chaos of a destroyed graveyard, or the mangled sails on a ship, the elements are balanced. “Be it scale, size, relative shape, relative size, relative color, these things have to function visually–the ideas more often then not co-develop with the acquisition of pieces or ‘discovering’ a piece’s true identity,” he said.

“ ‘You didn’t think I’d get back up.-did you? Yeah. Wow. Pretty massive failure of oversight huh? Pow, Motherfucker.’ “ Duncan Anderson, 2010 52” x 5” x 5”

Experimenting with creating pieces that work from a multiplicity of angles and viewpoints lends a new way of engaging with his art, as in the piece: You didn’t think I’d get back up, did you? Yeah. Wow. Pretty massive failure of oversight, huh? Pow, Motherfucker. It shows the contemplative, personal moment of revenge for a man breaking the “fourth wall” by acknowledging his own space and that of the viewer, as he peers over a ledge.  “For a sculpture to work, it has to work in the round, and most of these things have a very specific view, but I’ve been trying to get away from the dictatorship of one perspective,” he said.

The titles often bring alive and offer insight into Anderson’s perspective, be it from many angles or one, as in the case of the aforementioned Occult Fantasies (Widow’s Walk). Here, the phrase “occult fantasies” signifies the notion of sympathetic magic, the figure trying to cast a spell with her longing and ritual of waiting or even pacing around, as if it will influence her husband’s return. The fixed gaze of the widow turns away from the viewer, her “walk” only implied as she is destined to wait unfulfilled. The combination of her hope and the understanding that her husband will not return (as implied by the title) conveys a poignant sense of loss.

“Amputee with first day of school,” Duncan Anderson, 2009 56” x 12” x 14”

The weight of the past bares heavily in the piece Frontiers of Nod: Border patrol officer directing Representative to acknowledge and respond in kind to salute defined by treaty protocols as assuring non-aggression (Clenched fist, universal gesture requesting cessation of advance, unacknowledged.) The notion of pentimento is at play, but in this case it’s not an underlying layer of paint that is revealed, but a concept revealed in one’s consciousness, the notion of personal history and the cultural guilt that goes with it. The ‘Representative’ approaching the land of the living is a familiar human form, who may or may not be a threat, but he wants to cross over and the moment of truth has arrived. “A board officer, specifically in charge of keeping the dead from the land of the living is saying ‘stop, hold on, that’s as far as you go.’  He’s not threatening, but is up against the inexorable advance of a man, who will most likely be able to cross the porous border,” Anderson explained.

While all of Anderson’s work is steeped in meaning, his symbols are not always immediately clear to him when he starts work on a piece. After moving a plastic crocodile around his studio, unsure of what to do with it for several months, it was an absent moment of hooking it on a wall that created the rapid succession of epiphanies that lent to the creation of Cornered Plague Abomination with broken wing. “You’re supposed to be on the wall, your supposed to have wings, there’s something in your mouth, you’re from revelations, you’re a tribulation abomination, oh-my-God, you’re in my house, how do I get rid of you?” he said as he relived the moment of inspiration.

“Fort Lonesome, New South Dakota. Year 5, Nov. 3rd. Snow and ash plume B-6 a.98. 12 km and closing (Broken transmitter and a special kind of nowhere)," Duncan Anderson, 2009

At times the pieces are conceptualized and he needs to find a fabricator, at other times a found item inspires him, which he said is more common. “I’m always on, always looking… I’ll see something in a junkshop, salvation army or someplace I happen to be and say ‘I’m not sure what part you have to play,’ then weeks, days, sometimes years later with exposure to something else, it clicks: ‘you guys: suit up, you’re going in,” he said.

These days Anderson’s work is also filled with a newfound confidence, thanks to a friendship, which developed in the last couple years with Tony Fitzpatrick, Anderson’s so called “Jedi Master.” The friendship emboldened him to have stronger convictions about his individual voice as an artist. It began when Fitzpatrick picked up a piece from Anderson’s last show. Anderson remains aware of the larger community, but he is not as concerned anymore with validation from the establishment. This is evident in his wittily irreverent pieces that are sure to make you smile and break your heart a bit.

It is often difficult to tell where the artifice stops or starts and it’s not at all obvious that he’s making use of consumer available items. The found objects he works with are constantly given little pushes to nudge them out of the packages they come in on over to the realm of art. His experimental and visually pleasing pieces capture a moment in time that may otherwise be lost and are bound to provide another way of looking at the universe.