Walter Andersons

Ten In One Gallery

Walter Andersons’ scrupulous trompe l’oeil paintings wryly comment on issues such as representation, photographic reproduction, and the mechanics of art history. He combines fastidious pictorial realism with a kind of fragile, narrative whimsy, creating work that both pays homage to and subverts his mostly art-historical subjects. In the small and teasing picture, 1996, Andersons faithfully copied in acrylic paint a handwritten recipe for the image—“titanium white/ivory black/raw umber/picture.” Though painting is here reduced to its components, it somehow retains a poetic quality. The words have become simultaneously literal and visual, calling attention to the pictorial nature of letters and their application to surfaces.

Most of Andersons’ work involves the precise rendering of photocopies of print material—catalogues, magazines, etc.—taken from the art world. His paintings, immersions into the grainy world of barely proximate black and white reproduction, dutifully record bits of ink bleed, areas of soft focus, asymmetrical alignments, abrasions in paper, and type spilling over from adjoining pages. Yet despite the often clumsy mode of photocopy reproduction, the diluted grisaille echoes of Picasso, Dürer, Cézanne, Magritte, Rauschenberg, Klee, and even earlier works by Andersons himself still register, no matter how off the scale, color, or surface is in relation to the source (their rendition in these works denotes one more generation of descent). In painting composed of photocopies 96 (60) A.D., 1997, Andersons arranged a frieze of mostly paintings of photocopies of paintings. As in Rauschenberg’s 1955 Rebus, one is even tempted to see some hierarchy in Andersons’ basically left-to-right organization of these images. For Andersons, the reader who casually scans the art book, and the apparatus that can make coin of the realm of battered reproductions of works by artists such as Al Held and Barnett Newman, provides a structure parallel to Rauschenberg’s use of imagery from the street, and similarly ripe for having its tenets and contexts revealed.

In monographs, 1997, Andersons makes some of the architecture of the canonical system explicit. Taken from a gallery ad in an exposition catalogue, this painting of bookshelves filled with alphabetized volumes on twentieth-century artists solemnly presents its litany of names like some registry of holy figures. The subjects are identified merely by the printing on the book spines, but Andersons senses that, like a trademark, the typefaced vertical authority of “EL LISSITSKY” or “CHRISTO” is somehow adequate to the needs of the audience for Modern art. Andersons’ labored reconstruction of these pillars is more than sedition with a smile; his work always seems more earnest than bitter. While reserving some interesting place of significance for the activity of art-making, his careful copies unmask the tender absurdities in the way it is chronicled and disseminated.

James Yood