Fragile as Fruit, David Onri Anderson’s first solo exhibition at David Lusk Gallery in 2019, found the artist’s painted depictions of fruits and eggs resonating with fertility, love, and holistic, environmental themes. For August, Anderson takes over Lusk’s Nashville space with a new collection of paintings and sculptures. Elements spotlights the artist’s much-expanded vocabulary in a display that’s more dynamic than Fragile as Fruit. It’s also an even more clearly focused step in Anderson’s journey to create a contemplative iconography in the gyre of the 21st century. As Anderson writes in his statement: “The work I make resists the spectacle and urges greater importance for silence, ambiguity and rest.”
Elements’ centerpiece is a large painting called Eleven Candles of Hope. Anderson pictures his almost-a-dozen luminaries bobbing on the repeating crests of symmetrical waves of water, rendered in successive streams of blues and greens. Eleven Candles of Hope consists of homemade walnut ink stain, acrylics and graphite applied to a raw canvas, and this same combination of materials can be found in most of the wide variety of works Anderson brings to the walls of the exhibition. Burning candles, lamps and lanterns are longtime subjects for Anderson, and Eleven Candles and the show’s other large colorful canvases find the artist idiosyncratically deploying his signature style at its glowing, vibrating best. Supernova pictures the eponymous exploding star like a cosmic starfish painted in swirls of lavender, yellow, violet, and mauve. Anderson transforms a galactic happening into a sea creature but paints it like a flower garden, and it’s Anderson’s ability to blend inter-penetrating layers of poetic meaning into familiar forms that gives his whimsical symbols their metaphorical weight.
Test of Time is another colorful, graphic style scene of the scintillating trunk of a powerful tree rising from the ground where the ruins of a classical architectural column are in pieces. This painting’s tree symbol could be broadly interpreted, but for me this work is about the supreme beauty and power of the natural world. And for Anderson, natural fauna, natural materials, and elements like fire, are all contemplation cues inviting viewers to pore over these work’s surprisingly complex surfaces, to quietly stare into the flame of a candle, or to silently stand in awe before a giant ancient tree, shimmering with energy and disappearing into the upper reaches of the sky. Anderson’s paintings are mysterious, mystical, and magical, and some of them are brimming with trippy sensations: Amanitas and Stumps goes full psychedelia with its display of repeating mushrooms and tree stumps.
A trio of monochrome, nearly all-black paintings stands-out against their chromatic counterparts. All three pieces are a showcase for Anderson’s homemade walnut ink stain. Each dried canvas reads like a single color – the ink looks gorgeous, and it does a lot of the heavy-lifting in these compositions. The complex tonal layers of the stained surfaces make them much more engaging than a coat of black paint might have. Anderson deploys acrylics and graphite to draw various symbolic designs into the three distinct, enigmatically titled compositions: Untitled (Rainbow Breath), Untitled (Sun Worship), Untitled (Water Protection).
Another virtue of these black coffee-colored paintings is that they serve as a great transition away from the colorful walls and into the impressive array of sculptural works Anderson shows here. His inclusion of a couple of actual candelabras is fun, and Vine Candelabra is a naturally gnarly beauty featuring stubby white candles attached to the titular creeping crawlers. Anderson builds lots of found object/material animal assemblages like a rock-faced goldfinch, and a dried gourd baby owl. The inherent environmentalism of reuse/recycle art is a natural extension of Anderson’s aesthetics and practices, and a sculpture like Seahorse also manages to be both bizarre and fabulous. It has a seashell for a head and a single dot of purple acrylic paint for an eye. It’s adorned with an array of reflective disco ball pieces that bounce shimmering rainbows off the gallery walls. Be here now.
David Onri Anderson’s Elements is on view at David Lusk Gallery in Nashville through August 28.