Sharon Anderson: Chronicler of America’s Cultural Plan
Published at arteidolia.com in December 2021
Rock and roll and art has destroyed many minds. Like psychedelic drugs the human body is transformed into an otherworldly entity. Such is the method Sharon Anderson brings to her art. A fabulous explosion and dynamic of brilliant colors and imagery. At first there’s the scheme and exploration of the fundamentals for making art. The 2-Dimensional courses taught in many art schools. She makes use of this formula. How art and design begets advertising. Hence promoting of an image can reach a popularizing effect which becomes rooted in the conscience. Psychology of which is based on the marketing ploy of capitalism and its riches. Philosophies from the great minds in history proven through the lived experience. Grandeur of art symbolic in the artist as an adventurer. Sharon Anderson knows when to slip in between the glow of the artist as celebrated which she finds common in her social media meanderings. Common as in a gathering of known family members yet tricky in how she manages the selfie portrait. Often portrayed as a David Bowie or Marc Bolan muse complete with facial mask. An example of her chronicling of the American cultural plan. How do we transform from social disease or a pandemic? How do we make art of this? How does the artist position her focus on the American cultural heartbeat? What determines a great painting? Yes, and indeed it is in the experience. The power to have at one’s disposal the knowledge of art’s history. To have spun a circle around the American cultural sound. Jazz and rock and roll as the soundtrack to planetary earth-shaking. It’s all present in these fine and presentable works of fine art by Sharon Anderson. Perhaps you fancy shape, line and color. You are won over by deeply sensed imagery reminiscent of an acid trip. There’s placement as well, in the interior décor of some of her carefully photographed scenery of places she has been. The wonderment of all this and that is what she is building. Not a finished product. These are examples of a great body of work in its compositional and ever-growing form. There are still countries to travel, places to be seen capturing photographs in passing. Science of it all, power of the mind and body established, productivity of exploring detail, masterminding a piece of that American cultural plan.
Kofi Forson: You probably have given it some thought, Sharon Anderson, being a Detroit girl, heavily transformed into a Cali woman, the way you change and evolve from one selfie to the next is very reminiscent of David Bowie.
Sharon Anderson: Well that is more of a statement than a question. I don’t know other people’s motives when they take a selfie, but my motive is mostly to reach out to my extended family, (a vast cosmology of siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins,) and of course my friends. I’m always just saying “Hello.” Separation is an illusion, of course, but the pandemic and resulting quarantine made the illusion feel very real. It did for me. I missed everyone.
Forson: I could go many places with this. I sense a transcendence in who you are. Bowie had a very complex, rock and roll existence. There’s a self-possessive quality to you. A spinning and circular form in how you manifest and evolve with each work of art. It’s in the transformative way in which Bowie was constantly changing.
Do you ever think of Bowie and the influence he has on your creative spirit? He was one musical artist who existed within the avant-garde and yet created an overwhelming amount of commercial popularity for himself.
Anderson: As an artist, writer and musician of a certain age, the Bowie influence is a given, but you could talk about Marc Bolan, Bryan Ferry or Brian Eno as equal influences in terms of visuals and fashion. This has more to do with being a little kid in the 70’s. I was into music, and that’s what musicians looked like so I thought it was cool. So many people have influenced my creativity.
I love music and listen to it all day long. This impacts the visual. It’s hard to listen to an artist like Nina Simone and not imagine what she looks like, and all those amazing outfits, while listening to her voice. Her visual is very strong.
My family is a big influence. My creative friends- artists, musicians, writers, publishers and performers and you, Kofi – influence me. Engineers and nuclear scientists influence me when we’re working on designing power systems, creating a patent for a marine based variable speed generator and so on. Engineering and machinery takes up a lot of head space. My piano teacher was a big influence. My neighbor’s parrot is an influence. The books I’m reading, of course. Staring at the sky. You get the picture! I don’t know if I’m self-possessed, but I’m very focused on what interests me.
Forson: Would you say you easily attract ideas, if not from people, common folk, but also those from history? Are you constantly present in the flow of creativity? Are you naturally drawn to creative energy?
Anderson: That’s such an interesting question. Where do ideas come from? In a sense, I hope I never find out. I suppose it looks like I attract ideas, but I think a better way to say it is I have a functioning antenna. I will never be able to paint and write and compose all the ideas that come to me, the things I pick up on that radio wave, I’d need seven lifetimes. I whittle it down to the best of the best, the most immediately appealing ideas win.
Walking in a rose garden behind my office, I’ll bend down to tie my shoe and suddenly I’ll have this eureka moment about some project or creative problem seemingly unrelated to the moment. I think we’ve all had some form of this experience. Where do ideas come from?
Forson: Steven Pressfield writes about muses and angels in “War of Art”. Is there centrally a muse you work from? If so how do you channel this muse or what is the basis for inspiration for your art?
Anderson: I’m not sure I relate to the concept of the muse in the traditional sense. It always felt problematic. I’ve not read Pressfield so I don’t know how he specifically uses the term. To hearken back to my earlier answers, everything operates as the muse. Everything that happens all day long is a fascination, nothing is mundane. Magic is everywhere.
Forson: I remember back in the days of dropping off slides at ad agencies and art galleries, we used to worry that if everyone had a website, the competition would be greater.
With social media, the world expands. You make yourself very visible on social media. Is the trade-off between building an art persona with your choreographed selfies, chronicling of photos from social events in order to bring attention to your work as creative person, or is your social media persona and your role as an artist different from each other?
Anderson: You can’t learn anything personal about me from my social media accounts that can’t also be found on my website. Anything you find on my social media is either related to my published writings, my art and my love of music, or fashion and performance. Pictures of me, as I’ve said, are just a message in a bottle to my loved ones. No one will really find out much about me from social media. We as the user wield the tool; the tool doesn’t have to wield us.
Since you’ve mentioned selfies more than once, I should tell you that a lot of people write to me and think those photos are staged somehow. Ha! I wish I had time to do that. This is just how I look and dress every day, folks. I’m at my easel, or conducting an interview, filing an article with my editor, traveling, giving a presentation, or in the board room in these outfits. It’s all a documentary!
Forson: Perhaps the social media circus becomes performance. The energy one brings to an art opening, a party… the casualness of it all. In so many ways this is the virtual version of Paris in the 1920’s, 80’s clubbing or the 90’s café scene.
Anderson: I like that. At its best, social media can be an art form and a performance. It’s a great communication tool, and I wish people would realize that it can be used to unify all of us.
Forson: Much of this requires a sense of vision, opinion a person has of themselves, the way they perceive others. What form does this take in your absorbing of information to make art? Do you frame ideas based on the image, color, sound, text? What brings you to the canvas each time? What are you hoping to accomplish?
Anderson: You mentioned history, and that’s really important. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting and I’m an arts and entertainment writer among other things, so history-particularly art history-takes up a lot of my head space. I get painting ideas from dreams, conversations, long walks, reading novels. The impetus doesn’t have to be visual. I go to the canvas because it’s what I do every day. I’m outside of time and space when I paint; it is truly the furniture of my life. What am I hoping to accomplish? The act of creation is its own reward. The doing. We are all cosmic creators and need to claim our birthright as such. What remains when the work is complete, the final object, it becomes the ash of this experience. Joseph Beuys said you have to burn yourself down to ash, otherwise there’s no point. I agree with him.
Forson: Your work is basically a master class in the outside source and usage of ideas from other media, such as photography, advertising, film, poster art, just to name a few.
You claim to be influenced by Dada, Surrealism and Pop Art. There’s your experience in stage design. How does all this energy filter into your work?
Anderson: The Dadaists and Surrealists have always resonated with me since my student days. When I first visited Zurich I headed straight to the Cabaret Voltaire. They were all painters AND writers, most of them. And dandies. Art was a movement, a politic, and a fashion. My editor at the newspaper, Bruce Bellingham, studied film at NYU in the 1960’s. His professor was Annette Michelson, and she was friends with Teeny and Marcel Duchamp, also Tristan Tzara, and other people pivotal in the Dada and Surrealist scene. Bruce asked her “What were these people like?” She gave the best answer. Michelson said “They wore white gloves and they kissed women’s hands.” I love how simple and evocative that description is for the rest of us! Put on a show, make art and wear a great outfit. That era influenced Bowie as well. Bruce and Annette both died in 2018. History can evaporate if we don’t ask the right questions of the people who were there. Read that again. Be an archaeologist and historian with your creative friends and acquaintances, and hear their stories. The world depends on it. Write it down.
Forson: Perhaps this is the extension of how your paintings merge into your collages and vice versa. The key here is composition, something I find missing in contemporary art. There’s a fascination with portraiture. You have the better sense of imagination, an interplay and musicality within each frame.
Is this what Kathy Acker would call “The Child-like Life of the Black Tarantula” or Julia Cameron sees as the artist child? Where does this strong imagination come from?
Anderson: Again, I’m glad I don’t know! I’ve always really been in imagination land my whole life; I’m always entertaining myself in this way. It’s like asking a fish why it’s wet; I would be the last person to fully know what it means to be me.
Forson: I was looking at your “Portrait of Buck Wallace” painting, and there was a flash or glaze of Tamara de Lempicka’s presentation of color. The flesh tone, pigment, prioritization of light, it is all reflected on the surface of the portrait of this interesting man. Tell me about this painting.
Anderson: I’m so glad you brought up that painting. Buck Wallace was a commission piece I did right before I moved out of Michigan. This also has an element of collaboration which is essential to me. A woman I knew and worked with had a portrait of her father, but it was in black and white. No color photos existed. He died at a tragically young age, and she told me what his hair looked like, his skin tone. All the basics I’d need to paint his portrait in color. I’d known this woman for years and felt a very warm connection to her. I think that shows in the painting. When it was finished, she cried. It matched her real life memories of him and became a cherished family object. It doesn’t get any better than that. What a name, Buck Wallace! And what a face he had, so handsome and serene. It was an honor to paint him.
Forson: I referenced your early days in Detroit and the transition to Southern California. That seems like two opposite sides of a spectrum. Functionally how did Detroit fit into your artist scheme?
(I think of Detroit I think of rock and roll.)
Anderson: Well, I was born and raised in the Metro Detroit area and lived there most of my life. It is different from southern California but both places have birthed a lot of amazing culture. They have more similarities than differences.
Forson: Certainly, Detroit, would be a strong foundation for escapism? What was your early introduction to film, books, and music in general?
Anderson: Escapism? Oh, hardly that. Escapism in terms of living in a rich culture, yes, but the city was never the same after the riots. Everything changed. People born in this part of the world have a certain personality. Living with sociopolitical strife creates a very edgy sense of humor that’s disarming. Add in a love of art and music that doesn’t play it safe. Punk rock started there. We could go on forever with this. Think of the MC5, Kick Out the Jams. Think of Motown. Think of the fact that the largest Diego Rivera mural, the Detroit Industry Mural, lives in Michigan. Arguably one of the greatest paintings in the world. The mural is about auto manufacturing. We weren’t always a nation of consumers, we used to make things in United States, and Detroit was the center of the universe for a long time. It is still an amazing place. And yes it was my introduction. I learned about art at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Chicago Art Institute in a secondary capacity. I learned about films from the art house cinemas. I first saw Fellini’s 8 ½ in Detroit when I was what, 14? I learned about books at John King Books, I bought most of my record collection at Car City Classics. Wonderful.
Forson: You’ve professed to be someone who hustles for your art. Does your training for art come only from art schooling and a college experience? Perhaps you were inspired by your involvement in professional work or apprenticeship?
Anderson: I tend to be lucky and opportunities fall in my lap all the time, but looking back it always appears like I was hustling. It’s like falling down the stairs in a kind of Buster Keaton pratfall, then standing up and saying “I meant to do that!” I’ve used serendipity to take myself to places I never would have gone if I’d settled for my boring plans which were less grand and expansive than what chance presented to me. When opportunity knocks, I answer.
Success is a relative term. For me, success is living an interesting life with a lot of people to love and share it with. In that sense I’m successful. But that’s just the ash of a well-lived life, which is all anyone can hope for. That and good health, which I also enjoy.
School is essential, but at the end of the day we are all responsible for furthering our own education. The first part, formal education, is a roll of the dice in terms of the teachers you end up with and I had some exceptional ones. I had a teacher who studied in Dusseldorf with Joseph Beuys in the 1960’s, so my art education from him, as an oral tradition, is almost entirely Beuysian, 2nd generation. I’ve been marinating in those teachings my whole life; they inform almost everything I do. Anyone can stream the documentary Beuys and find out more. It’s a good testament to the approach. But I think I needed to take it a step further with additional reading after school was completed. I looked more deeply into shamanism, the writings of Derrida and deconstruction, philosophers and other esotericists. I think we have to keep going; we shouldn’t put our education on the shelf because the teacher left the room and we have our little bit of paper verifying our completed degree. The process of exploration is more important than completion.
Forson: The nature of your work speaks to freedom and nature of travel. I’d imagine you’d be at an advantage to live and work with a known artist for the summer.
What artist in history would you have wanted to spend time studying with and learning from?
Anderson: I think the artists I already know are the ones I would choose! I know a lot of great artists and get to collaborate with them, be in their lives, love what they do and who they are. Naturally I’d like to go back in time to meet a few people. I’d like to meet my ancestors. I’d also like to meet Marcel Proust. His writing more than any other author gave a voice to ineffable states of mind and feelings beyond words. Well, almost beyond words. Marcel had the talent of expression to teach me about aspects of my own experience on this planet that were unknown to me before I picked up his writings. Maybe we could go listen to a string quartet and then go for a walk by the Seine!
Forson: You’ve shown your work in different places around the world. I sense a tug and pull of Americana versus Europeanism in your work. Having the affordability of a big family with American traditions and yet discovering the world out there beyond the borders of America, perhaps through art history.
Please delve into the coming together of both elements of an American cultural lifestyle and European art history as pivotal in your discovery of not only making art but having an artist’s mind.
Anderson: These are excellent questions. I was told back in college that my work would always be better received in Europe than America, and that prediction came true. I live more like a European, so people tell me. I have a pretty modest living space, minimal expenses in my day to day, but I travel a lot and go on adventures. All my resources are tied to adventure versus objects. And I really believe what I’m saying until it’s time to do all my dry cleaning or move my book collection.
Forson: There’s a shock of color in your color palette. How do you interpret the color wheel? Is there an exercise in association of colors, like a Josef Albers treatment of color juxtaposition? Is it a form of psychology based on emotional temperature of each color and how they meditate on the adjoining colors from the color wheel?
Anderson: Oh wow, I don’t use color emotionally, that is such a funny concept. I’ve never used color in a strictly naturalistic sense, either. Albers is fantastic; you’ve tapped into something there between his work and my own. Yes I think in terms of juxtaposition and primarily what makes sense in terms of color blocking. It becomes intuitive after you learn the color wheel, get your BFA and then forget everything you’ve learned and just paint. It’s all in the soup; I don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s all a jazz riff now.
Forson: Not sure what’s the grandest scale of art you’ve ever done. But looking at your work reminds me of billboard painters like Ed Ruscha and James Rosenquist. Talk to me about the billboard skyline of art in California.
Anderson: I’ve painted some murals. I like working large. I’m amazed by Ed Ruscha and James Rosenquist. Out of the Pop Art school those two have influenced me more than Warhol. I’ve published articles on both artists also, so they’ve forced me to put on my thinking cap. What they’re doing visually is richly appealing yet subtle and deadpan. Comedic, even, and yes there’s a west coast association of course, but the sky is the sky has no nationalism or political affiliation. Haha. Anyone interested in Rosenquist might read his book Painting Below Zero: Notes on a Life in Art. It’s one of the best art books I’ve ever read. And Ed Ruscha, all his books are really important, too. The dry humor matches their precision of design in some way. Ed Ruscha is also the sexiest painter alive, in my opinion. I met him once in Beverly Hills years ago and forgot what I was saying, just trailed off, because I got distracted by how good looking he was. This amused him, and the embarrassment was worth it.
Forson: Certainly we formulate fine art paintings within the frame. They rarely live beyond the border of the frame. You see a Cezanne still-life; it rests and reclines as such. But the understanding of design is an anomaly from work done from the model. Semiotics and philosophy are relevant to the use of lines and shapes. How they coordinate within the surface. They become translatable not as collector items but rather as pertinent to décor, advertising and marketing.
How does the corporate use of image, text and color disassociate from what is recognizable as art, and yet be an ideology pertinent to your manipulating of the artist’s plan or goal for creating an original piece of art?
Anderson: Corporate imagery, that’s an interesting distinction. Well, corporations have co-opted everything, the visual field included. They want to own the sky and air and water! A landscape will never be corporate imagery, however! The earth doesn’t care about our silly designations. I think the point with pre-existing design is to take it apart and so far out of context that it becomes original. I think artists should take better care to really deconstruct their source materials particularly when it comes to collage. It’s hugely distracting to notice exactly where the source imagery came from in a collage. It’s like accidentally seeing the boom mike when you’re watching film. I want to suspend my disbelief, don’t interrupt the dream!
Forson: Then there’s the pop popularizing overtly of the image(s) within a painting. Your painting “We Are Here To Go” accentuates glamour and glitter. Is this a justification of pomp and circumstance as a way of life?
Anderson: I’m quoting Brion Gysin in that title. In terms of form, I was interested in painting surfaces that don’t end up looking like paint. The surface looks like jewels and metal. My own ideas, independent of Gysin and related to this painting, aren’t really relevant. I don’t want to interrupt anyone’s adventure with the visual.
Forson: I love the abstracting of lines and shapes similar to Kandinsky in some of your paintings. It’s almost a manner of fearlessness. That seems to be the priority with your collages. Having a multiplicity of images at your disposal, you’re able to create multidimensional compositions.
What fuels these collages? They work as films, scenes from works of literature, operas, and etcetera.
Anderson: Kandinsky is one influence. I’ve stared at a lot of early 20th century art. I’m very influenced by literature, film maybe to a degree but not as much. And music. I’m always listening to music.
Forson: You seem to be on the trajectory of the American cultural plan. How do you see technology and social media skewing away from this obligatory life and art rhythm? What is your response? Do you revel and partake in it? Is it a party we find ourselves in whether we like it or not?
Anderson: We are all the cosmic creators, and we have created the world we want to live in, and can change it at any time. Everyone is an artist. That’s another Beuys quote. He talked about social sculpture. Art is a social transaction and a necessity, not something extra. Now more than ever we all need to be activists. We have to claim our creative roles in society when it comes to the environment, social justice and consciousness expansion. There’s no time to lose. We don’t have the right to squander the world as it has been handed to us or to pass it on to the next generation in tatters. Art is political when you realize creation is power. I’ve written many times that ultimately, creativity is an act of rebellion. We are not defined by our circumstances and through art, we transcend. That’s magic we can claim, and power we can wield for the greater good. We can do anything together, and we have to. We have to do it now.
Kofi Forson is a writer, poet and playwright living in New York City. He blends his love of cinematic art, poetry and philosophy with journalism through in-depth formatted interviews with Neo-Expressionist New York artists, musicians, models, Hollywood celebrity and reviews of books, and art movements like Brexart. He has written for New York Arts Magazine, Whitehot Magazine, Talent, Armseye, Poetrybay, D/RAILED and Gainsayer.