Painting Exorcise: David Onri Anderson in Nashville

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David Onri Anderson, into place
David Onri Anderson, into place, 2016; oil and graphite on canvas, 8 by 10 inches.

On Saturday, November 5, I led a Q&A with Duncan MacKenzie, cofounder of the Bad at Sports podcast and blog. The Chicago-based editor/writer/artist was in Nashville at the invitation of Seed Space. During our conversation, one audience member bemoaned what she felt was a lack of alternative art spaces in Nashville. MacKenzie responded with an overview of apartment building gallery culture in Chicago.

Kirsten Stolle's Only You Can Prevent A Forest on view at Halsey Institute through Dec 10, 2022

I didn’t have a chance to add my two cents before the talk drifted on to a new subject. Nashville has been home to many alternative art spaces over at least the past decade-and-a-half. The Secret Show series, for example, made use of vacant warehouses and commercial spaces and the pioneering Rule of Thirds, which was founded in the living room of a rented house by artists Shaun Slifer and Ally Reeves. Coincidentally, Nashville’s latest alternative space opened exactly one week after the question came up at the talk.

David Onri Anderson, tenant paper lantern
David Onri Anderson, tenant paper lantern, 2016;
oil and ballpoint pen on foam, 9 by 12 inches.

David Onri Anderson is the co-curator of the gallery Mild Climate in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood. In a recent article for BURNAWAY, I placed Mild Climate and Anderson at the center of Nashville’s best gallery scene. Anderson’s latest exhibition, “Paper Mind,” opened just a few blocks from Mild Climate at Bijan Ferdowsi on November 12. The space is in the basement of the house that Anderson rents with dancer/artist McKay House, and Anderson’s younger brother Benji, who’s also an artist. The space is named for Anderson’s landlord – a Persian calligrapher who was the project manager at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art from 1972 to 1977. 

Installation view of David Onri Anderson's show "Paper Mind"
Installation view of David Onri Anderson’s show “Paper Mind” in the artist’s basement gallery Bijan Ferdowski.

“Paper Mind” includes a number of small paintings in various mediums on found substrates, with subjects alternating from studies of Japanese paper lanterns to depictions of apple cores. The lantern paintings are inspired by a book of erotic Japanese prints that Anderson borrowed from a friend. One image featured a beautiful woman holding an illuminated paper lantern in order to dazzle an elderly man in the scene. The lantern also dazzled Anderson. After his friend left town, taking the book with him, Anderson exorcised the image of the lantern by painting it over and over again. The apple core paintings came about when Anderson was eating an apple and then recognized that it shared the same vertical symmetry as the lanterns.

There’s an offhand quality to a show displayed in a cinderblock basement. In this case, the space includes an art studio in one corner with household storage shelves along the walls. Anderson’s installation is as charmingly capricious as his decisions about what to paint and how to paint it. Some works are simply leaned against a wall. Others are set into an open space in the wall, converting the niches into a kind of grottolike shrine that begs for iconic, magical interpretation. Anderson paints most of these works with oils, but he applies them on nearly anything from canvases to rocks to scraps of wood and cardboard.

David Onri Anderson, x-ray
David Onri Anderson, x-ray, 2016; oil on wood structure, 4 by 6 inches.

The title “Paper Mind” evokes throwaway ideas, but one doesn’t get the impression that Anderson thinks his ideas aren’t valuable. But it’s clear that rather than perfecting a particular work, it’s painting the next one that matters most in a process-oriented practice like Anderson’s. Paper lanterns and apples aren’t symbols laden with allegorical gravitas. These are paintings made for their own sakes, and as such, the most important and most impressive details in the show are Anderson’s crystal clear sense of color and his love for painterly surfaces made of lush lines and thick frosted fields.

Rafael Soldi: A body in transit is now on view at the Frost Museum, Miami through December 4

This is one of my favorite painting exhibitions in Nashville this year, and the latest example of the DIY endeavors that have always marked the edges of Nashville’s innovative art community.

Installation view of DAvid Onri Anderson's show "Paper Mind"
Installation view of David Onri Anderson’s show “Paper Mind” with two chips paper lantern
oil on chip bags, 2016, in the artist’s basement gallery Bijan Ferdowsi.

“Paper Mind” runs through December 30. Bijan Ferdowsi is located at 504 Southgate Ave, Nashville TN 37203.

Joe Nolan is a critic, columnist, and intermedia artist in Nashville. Find out more about his projects at

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