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Omaha Magazine

Out of the Blue

Oct 24, 2018 11:56AM ● By Sean Robinson
It all started with a chair. Then another. And another. Eventually, painter Will Anderson had enough chairs for his first solo show (at Petshop Gallery last year in Omaha). Don't expect to sit back, relax, and unwind with Anderson’s artwork, though. His furniture frenzy is just for viewing purposes—each chair exists only on canvas in bright cobalt blue hues.

After two years of monochromatic work and painting a number of chairs large enough to rival the collection at Nebraska Furniture Mart, Anderson is looking to expand the idea of what art can be by dipping into new colors and literally breaking boundaries through uncommon canvas making.

“For most of my life, I've had a stubborn attachment to painting,” Anderson says. “Recently, I'm cracking open new doors. I'm feeling more confident now, so I notice new things and try 'em out. That old, stubborn strictness is going away.”

At his Hot Shops studio in NoDo, Anderson is beginning to craft the next stage of his career while surrounded by pieces from his previous eras—and a whole lot of flower portraits. Nope, the artistic garden isn’t his own work. It belongs to his mother and grandmother, two fellow artists he shares the space with. 

“I never had a mission to be an artist as a kid, but I was always around and exposed to it,” Anderson says. “Art as a career was certainly normalized for me, but my style doesn't mirror my family's.”

After graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2008, Anderson says he moved back to Omaha for its convenience and affordability, two things he was looking for in a home as he spent a portion of the last decade figuring out what kind of painter he wanted to be. 

During this decade of self-discovery, he experimented by painting abstract portraits inspired by old Hollywood icons like Ingrid Bergman, pop art-styled Tyrannosaurus rexes harkening back to his love for Jurassic Park, and a blue chair (or more like 200 of them). In that time, his reputation in Omaha has also grown as he has participated in auctions at Bemis Art Center and shown work everywhere from RNG Gallery to Project Project. 

“It's through the way Will renders his subjects that makes the seemingly familiar actually unfamiliar and forces us to question how much we think we know about the world around us,” says Angie Seykora, a local sculptor who worked with Anderson on a pop-up exhibition last year.

Like many other artists, Anderson holds a side job to help support his career. It was there, owning his own small business as a carpenter, that he may have found inspiration for his next big venture—canvas making. Just like hanging drywall and tiling a bathroom, this part of the painting process allows him to work with his hands while making bigger, more aggressive pieces.  

But these aren't ordinary, average canvases. Instead, they have been stretched, warped, and contorted in strange shapes to purposely show the effort it takes to make each one. Unlike the monochromatic chair series, the newest work that lives on these canvases is full of color and takes no concrete form. 

“Making a canvas is a private, mechanical necessity to many painters, and I had an interest in exposing that kind of stuff,” Anderson says. “Usually, the privilege of the viewer is you don't see that toil. Now, I can show that while also having a better relationship with the materials in my hands.”

If do-it-yourself could be personified, it would probably look a lot like Anderson. He's no muss, no fuss. So when a problem presents itself, like running out of canvas when painting a particular piece, he quickly finds a solution. Just make a smaller one and hang it adjacent as an add-on. The small cubes and rectangles can then be moved here, there, anywhere, and he isn’t confined by space. 

“I had to quit planning ahead, so the add-ons are a reflection of that,” Anderson says. “Even establishing meaning beforehand is crazy to me because then you're just working towards whatever that chosen symbolism is and all sincerity is lost.”

Visionary? Handyman? Or, just a dude looking to make a name for himself? Anderson proves to be all of the above and more as he attempts to reveal different parts of the artistic process to viewers while completing work in various forms of abstract. Whether he is using wood stain on canvas or grinding up his own batch of cobalt blue paint, Anderson's use of lowbrow methods to make highbrow more accessible is unmatched in the Omaha community. 

“The way I play is a lot different than anybody else,” Anderson says. “For now, I'm really interested in participating in the dialogue of contemporary art making and experimenting with new ways to do that.” 

Just don't expect him to create portraits of flowers anytime soon. Sorry, Mom and Grandma. 

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This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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