Retired from a career in oil, an artist and gallery director brings a revitalized perspective to city skylines.
Iowa-born artist Joel Anderson moved to Houston right out of college and took a job with Shell, where he “sat behind the computer for 33 years.” But he spent his weekends making art in a variety of mediums, including stained glass and wood-working. Now retired at the tender age of 60 — with plenty of time for artistic experimentation thanks in part to a generous pension — Anderson is much happier these days following his creative muse. “It makes me spring out of bed in the morning,” he says. “To get on with things, get the day going, and get some art created.”
In his show Urban Observations, on view through Jan. 30 at Archway Gallery, Anderson hangs new Houston-centric paintings — ones of the city’s skylines, iron fences covered with snapdragons, and one especially menacing-looking gargoyle. Through his encaustic technique, his work appears simultaneously ancient and futuristic: Digital photos are pressed and fused into layers of melted beeswax and resin on large frames of solid wood. His two “H-Town Skyline” paintings are created from images captured by a drone piloted by Anderson, though not without some initial trial and error. “I crashed the damn thing on its third flight,” says Anderson, who made sure to get FAA certification to fly it. “It’s wonderful you don’t have to rent a helicopter to achieve such things.”
The photos, drained of color in Photoshop, are printed to paper and burnished with a spoon onto a base of clear hot wax. Anderson uses pigment powders to add his own colors, and a blowtorch to embed the transformed image into the encaustic. “Being able to carry over my computer background from the corporate world into the art world is what really got me interested in this medium,” says Anderson, who also credits YouTube for inspiring him to explore the technique.
Inspiration also comes from Archway, an artist-owned and -operated gallery that has shown Houston artists since 1976. Anderson is currently Archway’s director, though he and the gallery’s 29 other artists share duties equally, be it working the front desk, ordering supplies, or hanging a show. Meanwhile, art festivals in and outside Texas have provided Anderson with helpful feedback on his work, although he admits his haunting series of bare winter trees didn’t go down so well in sunny South Florida. “In the IT world, you do the same thing twice, you get the same results,” says Anderson. “In the art world, it’s not like that at all. It’s an ever changing, ever learning environment.”
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