PRINT February 1967

Jeremy Anderson

JEREMY ANDERSON’S 17-YEAR RETROSPECTIVE at the San Francisco Museum is probably the finest show to be seen in the Bay Region this year. Many viewers, including some long familiar with Anderson’s work, really had not expected to be confronted with such quality in such depth as the show presented.

The exhibition catalog, written by Gerald Nordland, the Museum’s new director, is free of polemics, and concentrates entirely on Anderson and his development. As Nordland points out, Anderson’s sculpture is informed by the traditions of Surrealism. The work looks backward to DeChirico’s metaphysical paintings and forward to the present concerns with brilliantly polychromed lacquered surfaces. As a figure in the Bay Area art world, Anderson has maintained the single link with the mainstream European traditions of Dada and Surrealism. Fifteen years ago his sculpture, along with the work of Adaline Kent, Claire Falkenstein, Robert Howard and a handful of others was the only modern sculpture of any importance being done in the San Francisco area. In the intervening years, the burden of passing the core of these ideas to another generation of artists has rested on Anderson’s back.

Written puns, plays on words, double meanings, visual as well as literary asides remain at the very heart of Anderson’s sculpture. He seems to build his formal content, like Rene Magritte, on a series of transformations, probably beginning with a known object or idea that can be. built upon and in the process perhaps obscured. This spinning out process, in which an artist lets things happen and allows himself to come up with a unique and often uncharacteristic end result, seems to be central in Anderson’s various methods.

Anderson’s insistence on overt literary symbolism is even more curious and points up his tough single mindedness when one realizes that he attended the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) from 1946 to 1950 at the high point of its Expressionist fervor. One of Anderson’s instructors, Clay Spohn, must have been some support, since his, Spohn’s, funky playfulness in three dimensions compensated somewhat for Clyfford Still’s Gothic seriousness.

Nordland has pointed out in the Catalog Anderson’s fascination for medieval weapons the artist had seen en masse on exhibit at the De Young Museum some years ago. The spiked mace form is evident in many of the redwood pieces. The staff and catapult are alluded to. The cage, with all its psychological richness, is a reoccurring form. These forms are not used in a threatening manner, on the contrary they seem to have been fed through a “deintensification” process in the mind of the artist. Anderson’s concern for historic weapons did not diminish but was brought up to date in the early fifties with an attempt to use the modern aircraft carrier flight deck as a starting point for a plaster sculpture. He found it unsuccessful for a number of reasons and switched to native redwood rather than the plaster. The switch from one material to the other was the beginning of the artist’s continuing affair with the manifold possibilities of redwood. The immediacy of a soft material like redwood, Anderson’s principal medium for the last ten years, lends itself to radical revision even when the work is half completed, an advantage of which Anderson has obviously had more than one occasion to make use.

An aspect of Anderson’s career harder to assess than his sculpture is his widespread influence as a sculpture instructor at the San Francisco Art Institute. Perhaps the greatest compliment that could possibly be paid to him is that he has not produced a host of imitators. Younger sculptors such as Robert Hudson, William Wiley and William Geis have recognized the subtlety of his ideas and have learned more from his position as an artist than from his outward “look.”

James Monte