Mix a color, make a dot and repeat as needed. This is the process Homer artist Deland Anderson has been using for the past nearly 30 years to create his colorful paintings. Interpreting landscapes through dots and using pattern to bring out the play of color, he strives to create an interplay between sky and land, water and light.
Anderson’s paintings are the result of his experiences in landscapes, like watching meltwater cut through ice, walking through the woods looking for berries and witnessing the autumn colors of an alpine meadow. As a child, he enjoyed drawing and carving until he lost interest when he was unable to create things that came out the way he saw them.
“I think that was a lucky moment for me,” Anderson said. “I had to give up trying to be in control of the creative process.”
His current exhibit, “Patterns in Place,” is a retrospective body of work on display at the Pratt Museum & Park that showcases his work and celebrates his career.
With egg tempera paints as his medium, he shared that the unforgiving nature of the paint’s permanency provides a challenge.
“Unlike in mainstream painting media, layering is not allowed,” he said. “If a dot is put over another dot, it becomes unstable and will pop off the ground. Another way to mess up is putting down a color that does not go well with what is already in place. Or if I run out of a custom-mixed color since I don’t mix up batches of colors and then use them out of the bottle, so to speak. My palette is an ever-evolving pot of paint. I just add to what is already there and hope it is good enough and goes far enough.”
The joy comes in the vibrancy of the colors, the discipline and freedom afforded and the skills required.
“No other medium comes close in my opinion to what can be achieved by putting a dot of paint on a background and then putting another dot of another color next to it,” he said. “I enjoy the discipline and the freedom of making my own rules when I paint. It requires skills not usually needed in everyday life and it also lets me encounter what is around me on my own terms.”
A self-taught landscape painter, Anderson was originally inspired by the Aboriginal art of Australia, New Zealand Maori iconography and European post-Impressionism. Exposed to the Western Desert Acrylic Dot movement while traveling in the Australian Outback in 1980, he was intrigued by the way in which the paintings depicted the landscape from above.
“Wanting to know how the process unfolded, I began to experiment in my own way, by laying out scenes from above,” he said. “This came naturally to me, as it suited my experience of making my way through a landscape. As long as I could remember, I had always marked my own progress by seeing myself from above. The more intrigued I became, the more I sought out painting and painters from remote Australia and I was eventually invited to learn from those painters. I took what I learned and rolled in with my knowledge of New Zealand Maori art and the art of post-impressionist Europe. My painting technique is an eclectic blend of these influences”.
Through workshops and residencies, Anderson has taught thousands of people the technique of dot painting as he practices it.
“Most find it relaxing,” he said. “For me, it is central to my life, providing the rhythm of my days. I continue to explore color through the patterns wrought in the landscape wherever the sky comes down to the ground.”
Anderson shared that the high point for him as an exhibiting artist came a few years ago when he was putting together a show that focused on Alaska’s wild rivers.
“The exhibit traveled around the road system, taking on a different shape at various venues, but at the Valdez Museum I was able to present “Wild Rivers” as a natural history exhibit,” he said. “Crossing that line from art to history was important for me as a scholar and professor.”
Asked what he might say to encourage others to art, Anderson shared an anecdote.
“Before coming to Homer, in the 1990s, I taught in the Center for Programs in the Humanities at Virginia Tech,” he said. “In one of my classes I would lead students through a thought-experiment, asking a class of say 40 students, ‘Who would like to make $50,000 a year?’ Virtually everyone in the class would raise their hand. ‘But’, I would stipulate, ‘you have to work at least 20 hours a week, every week of the year’. A few hands would come down, but there would still be a robust showing. “Then,” I would add, “your work is to be an artist.” A significant number would drop out. ‘And’, I would add, ‘you have to exhibit your work’. Typically only three or four students would still be interested. Corollary: When you find yourself saying, ‘I can’t not’, with regard to your artistic endeavors, you will know you have found your starting point. Then you just have to find your way.”
Drawn to Homer 30 years ago, after a visit when he fell in love with the sky and the spirit of freedom and creativity he witnessed, he continues to draw on those aspects all these years later.
“I was inspired by the idea that you did whatever you had to so you could do what you wanted to,” he said. “People worked hard, but they didn’t work all of the time. They pursued their passions by creating downtime. Many people pursued artistic endeavors. People hung paintings on the sides of their houses and did all manner of creative things out in the open.”
National artists including Charles M. Russell and Georgia O’Keeffe, Western Desert artist Clifford Opossum, central Australian artist Albert Namatjira, and international artists Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso inspire Anderson, as do numerous local artists.
“Homer is a small town with a lot of artists and I appreciate the vigor of this town, though I don’t really collaborate,” he said. “I think of myself as sitting in the corner doing my dots.”
Anderson has exhibited extensively throughout North America, with individuals from Alaska, the United States, Canada and Europe collecting his paintings. His current exhibit, “Patterns in Place,” is a retrospective body of work on display at the Pratt Museum & Park, both a showcase of a sampling of his work and a celebration of his long and successful art career. A few of the pieces have shown in previous exhibits, others are private pieces never before exhibited, and others are newer paintings created without a theme or plan to exhibit.
“This exhibit is a miscellaneous history of some of the things I have done with dots through the years,” he said. “I am constantly keying into patterns and how it distributes color in the world. I hope you can share in this experience by letting these paintings lead you back into your world with a heightened sense of the play between sky and land, water and light, with a sense of how the vastness of a world may be centered on a berry or blossom.”
On Nov. 14, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Anderson will teach Introduction to DitDot Painting to ages 5 and up at the Pratt Museum where students will explore the process of composing a DitDot painting of studio tempera paint on mat board. Visit prattmuseum.org for more information and to register. “Patterns in Place” is on display at the Pratt Museum & Park through December with his art cards now available year round in the Museum Store.