Nashville artist Benji Anderson was painting a huge mandala-like mural on the floor of the Elephant Gallery in North Nashville when the 30th edition of the Outsider Art Fair opened in New York. Annie Armstrong covered the opening of the show for Artnet, outlining the history of the art brut genre and focusing on the respected niche it has carved out for itself over the past three decades. The definition of art brut has evolved over time, but today it is a catch-all term for art made by self-taught creators who are “outside” the academic and commercial infrastructure of the world. contemporary art establishment. Benji Anderson is the son of Joel Anderson, founder of Anderson Design Group, and he is the brother of local artist David Onri Anderson. But Benji chose not to go to college, and his wild, vibrant, and densely detailed works vibrate with an energy of improvisation, idiosyncratic styles, and hallucinatory imagery that make him a good choice for subcategories. exterior like “intuitive art” and “visionary art”.
Elephant Gallery features many self-taught – or at least less traditionally educated – artists, and Anderson’s exhibition is a great reminder of what the gallery did best before the pandemic. The Fitful Portal is an immersive exhibition featuring a selection of large multimedia works on paper, Anderson’s iconic designs on Etch A Sketch toys and this huge colorful wall mural to really bring the room together. The gallery’s design is reminiscent of other displays in the space where artists have created floor-to-ceiling environments, playing off Elephant’s large display case. The best elephant shows are over-the-top events that push viewers’ expectations of what an art exhibit should look like and how art can be displayed, and Anderson is doing just that here.
The floor mural is painted in vibrant hues of gold, pink, blue and brown. Elements such as stars, leaves, hearts and diamonds can be made out, but it looks like a purely abstract concentric design that Anderson called a “swirl” when we chatted ahead of the show’s opening reception. The mural is reminiscent of both mandala patterns and acid-dipped 1960s psychedelic styles. Visitors to the exhibit cannot enter the exhibit without stepping on what Anderson calls his “greatest painting of all time.” The mural acts as a gallery culture mat not to be touched – until it is inevitably repainted for the next show, disappearing like a Buddhist sand painting.
The centerpiece of the exhibition, ‘Mandala/The Fitful Portal’, is a large work in watercolor and graphite on paper. Anderson told me it took him 80 hours to hand-mix his colors and paint his mural on the floor, and the intense detail in “Mandala/The Fitful Portal” looks almost as laborious. This work shines with circles within circles of yellow, pink and green patterns that create an intense spiraling effect that made me anxious even when I was just looking at a picture of it on my phone. It’s a trippy piece, and viewers can spend an afternoon closely examining every little gesture and line conspiring in its dizzying effect.
The drug designs are a highlight here, but most of the show is filled with weird creatures and weird plants, populating weird scenes in other nonsensical worlds. In the Outsider Art Fair report on Artnet, Armstrong mentions the late great outsider singer-songwriter and artist Daniel Johnston. Anderson’s scenes can be Johnston-esque in their compositions stuffed with colorful, cartoonish figures. But Anderson’s art is more…well, restless – he jumps through many styles in single works and mixes his media in bursts of crayon, pastel, watercolor, marker, crayon, ballpoint pen and more. .
“Tread on the Trail” is perhaps the craziest track in a show full of goofy works. The piece evokes a forgotten creation myth with a menagerie of crazy creatures that reference cartoon history – a bizarre pink tiger is stylized as a 1930s Max Fleischer cartoon, and a pair of little fawns are straight out of Disney. A waving palm tree in the background is adorned with meticulously detailed greenery and textured bark, but some animals in this painting have eyes and noses indicated only by simple dots. The eerieness of the scene – combined with Anderson’s chaotic expressions – can be slightly unsettling, but the artist’s bright and dynamic palette helps balance out the work’s more unsettling nuances. No bad trips here, man.
The show also includes a collection of Anderson’s Etch A Sketch drawings, with the iconic red toys neatly arranged in a single row on a slanted viewing shelf. It’s a great display, and Etch A Sketch’s artwork looks even more impressive grouped together as a whole. Anderson has partnered with Extended Play Press to publish his Engravings 2019 toy screen drawing book. The works have become something of a signature for the artist – not only because of their playful novelty, but also because they are emblematic of a creative practice that combines childlike imaginative explorations with the obsessive rendering of a myriad of detailed pictures. These sketchy drawings include eerie dinosaurs and bizarre architecture, subterranean giants, and an impressive negative image of a mask drawing that finds Anderson filling the entire background of an Etch A Sketch screen with a succession of meticulously horizontal lines. spaced.
An Etch A Sketch advertisement from the 1960s claimed that the toy “magically writes and draws” and The Fitful Portal finds Anderson playing an alchemist combining random materials in a free-play state in service of a visionary consciousness. Abracadabra.