The Fort Hayes Shot Tower Gallery
546 Jack Gibbs Blvd.
Columbus, OH 43215
Written and Photographed by Doreen Dawkins
I arrived at the retirement reception for Ron Anderson just in time for the program to start.
Students provided spoken word performances interpreting Ron’s 911 work.
Sidebar: I was not able to interview Mr. Anderson on the evening of the reception. We talked for 48 minutes later. He is passionate about his work, and I enjoyed viewing his work and talking to him about his work. I am including the parts of the conversation related to specific pieces.
Tell me about Pearls and Lace.
Well, you tell me what you think it is about, then I will tell you.
I thought it was about a seductive role reversal, but my guess is it is deeper than that.
I try to avoid thinking too much about what the piece is or isn’t. Then you lock into something and it becomes almost forced. I treat it almost like an essay where you give some clues, and put some facts in there, but also leave it open ended. You can come back and look at it repeatedly and see something different. The piece started with her in the chair. This was before the me-too movement. I thought about a woman with power. She may have owned this club. She is comfortable being who she is without caring what people think. She is in control of her femininity. She is not letting you define her, she is defining herself. “I am going to be just as doggish as a man, I own this place. If I want to cross my legs openly, I am comfortable with that.”
I was drawn to “Heaven and Hell” because of the man playing the piano. I thought it might be a spin off from the whole church thing. Were you saying if you go to a club it can turn into heaven or it can turn in to hell based on your experience/choices that night?
Sometimes the paintings get their titles after they have been painted. I haven’t heard your interpretation before, but it makes sense. It is about that small line between what is good and what is bad. Sometimes you can have secular music. For example, they trashed Ray Charles for taking church music and turning it into the devil’s music (blues). When I was painting this piece, I think I was listening to Ray Charles, “I Got A Woman”. The woman in the painting is the woman on the other side of town. The guy with the match is kind of like satan. This piece is about a loose interpretation of good and evil. The battle in our own heads.
Sidebar: In my blog and all communication satan will always be lower case. Enough said.
Tell me about “Blues in the Key of C.” My understanding is the key of C is one of the primary blues keys, but it is not one of the primary keys E, A, and G. So, I reasoned he must be making a statement with even the title. Like it’s a path but not the main path that people would stay on.
That is why I like other people’s interpretations. I throw things out there even if they don’t make any sense, but someone will make some sense out of it. It doesn’t have to be a blues piece. She could be singing opera and he could be playing a classical piece.
The blues might not have been a connotation to the type of music it could be associated to how someone is feeling.
A lot of my work starts with a feeling. The music is just in the back of my head, because I play it. The music just becomes part of the painting. Then you know better than I why someone would start with the key of C.
It’s the easiest key. No sharps or no flats.
See, that could be a metaphor for easy.
We stumbled on something. You play music while you paint. Is there a genre that you play while you paint?
Most of the pieces that were part of that exhibit were part of my jazz period. I am a huge fan of Myles Davis, Coltrane, Felonious Munk, and Billie Holiday. I try to stay away from music that has lyrics because then I am listening to the words instead of the music bouncing around in my head. The sounds create visuals in my mind. Occasionally, I will listen to a song with lyrics. For example, “She Just Loves to Dance.”
It’s the picture where there is a woman in a red dress dancing in a juke joint where all these guys are watching her as she is dancing by herself. That was based off the work of an artist named Keb-mo. He is a delta blues singer. The song is called “She Just Loves to Dance”. The painting came to be as I listened to that song repeatedly. You can imagine how many hours I listened to that song repeatedly. It created a visual that was very easy to see.
It is basically the report taking notes before or after the fight. The boxer has tape on his hands. The boxer himself is my older son who was the model for that. My younger son is the trainer with the red shirt. He is also the one taking the report. The guy with the green shirt with his back to you and the guy with the red shirt is my son painted twice. China White is the one with her back to you.
It looks like music and boxing seem to be common themes in your work. Is that correct? If that is not correct, do you have any common themes for your work?
I try not to settle on one. Whenever I get excited about something, that is when I paint it. For example, the Obama painting is not necessarily a portrait. It is more a promising of the first black president. It was painted when he was running against Hillary.
Formula 44 was/is a good cough syrup from back in the day. President Obama was the 44th president. It was a formula for change. So, I tied the two together and made the title “Formula 44”. The painting is also tied into and inspired by John F. Kennedy when he brought his family into the public viewing by bringing the cameras in the white house. In the 1950s and early 1960s, look of the American family was like the old tv show (Father Knows Best). You will see some things that sort of don’t quite make sense. For example, the breed of dog isn’t the dog they ended up with. I didn’t want to select breeds of dogs that a typical black family might have like a Doberman pinscher, rottweiler, or pit bull. I wanted them to have a smart, black dog. That is why I chose a black Labrador. He did look at a Labradoodle. The bust in the background on the table behind him would usually be the bust of Churchill. I thought if he were in the white house like all the other presidents, he would change the décor. So, I changed it to a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King and he ended up putting that in there. Also, there is a Kenyan sculpture in there too. Sasha which is probably the more outgoing of the two girls is on the floor playing with the dog. Malia was allergic to pet hair. Michelle has a newspaper that tells when the picture was completed, July 23, 2008. This is one of the moments that I felt very strongly that he would become president because Barak Obama had all the passion and credentials. You may see the three Obama paintings in a future exhibit. There is a painting of him during his second term.
McConnell said he was only going to be a one term president. I said no, he is not.
If you look at the piece, it is a slight halo. McConnell has his finger in the wounds of Obama.
You will see the other figures in there too, like John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Mitt Romney. At that time, Obama was running against Romney. That painting was not in the exhibit, but it was on the poster.
I heard you play a few bars on the trumpet. Is that another one of your passions? If so, have you been playing long? Do you play for a group?
No, I don’t play for a group because I don’t practice enough. I don’t want to insult musicians or embarrass myself. They wanted me to bring my trumpet. I polished it that morning. I used to play well, but if you don’t practice it will take some time to find yourself back. I usually play late at night in my studio when there is no one in the building.
Are any of your pieces for sale?
All of them are. I think it is a big mistake for artists to hold onto their work. When they do, that just means they are stuck on their work, and they never move forward. You gave it your best shot at the time. The story was strong at that time. But then a new story comes along. A new idea pops into your head and you are ready to move to the next journey. If I sell all the pieces that I do, it allows me to move on and let go of them. I have done that before, when I have sold a piece for a decent amount of money. As an artist, you miss them when they are gone because you can’t go and see them again, especially if they leave the city.
As I was walking around Red seemed to be a common color in a lot of your work. Have you noticed that? If so, why do you think that is?
I think red is such a powerful color because you don’t have to use much of it for it to be effective. The color red sometimes is symbolic of power and danger. It also electrifies a piece. If you use red in a piece, it lightens the piece up. I have done a lady in red before. I thought that if a woman has on red there is something powerful about that. It is sexy, and dangerous. I play a lot with symbolism. Color is a good way to do that. If you put on a red dress, you have a lot of confidence, because not everybody can wear red and get away with it. Sometimes wearing red says I got this, I want to stand out from everybody else.
How does someone get in contact with you?
Ronandersonstudio.com. On Instagram: Tanner1697.ra
I have paintings 6 at the Ohio Supreme Court on the 11th floor, “The History of Law.” I have two paintings of George Washington Williams at the State House. He was the first black politician in Ohio. These paintings were commissioned by Ray Miller when George Taft was the governor.
These paintings are permanent. They will be there long after you or I will be around. They are there if the building stands. Also, if you go all the way back in the Elevator (a restaurant downtown) where the billiard table is located, there is a huge painting (about 13 feet) of a boxer at the turn of the century, that is also my painting.
Tell me about the piece.
“Man, with flute” is a bronze piece originally carved in stone. I broke the piece because I didn’t want to do a limited edition. I just wanted one piece in bronze.
What is the general process of working with bronze?
First, you make a silicon and rubber mold. Then, you do white which paints over the mold. Once the mold is done, you melt the bronze, you pour it in the mold. Then, you bury it in the earth or in sand if you are inside. Once it cures, you break the mold open and chase it which means you clean it up. It might take you months to chase it. It took me about 6 months to chase this piece to get it to the point where you can begin to see what it is. It might take longer that that. You are not dealing with just you. You are dealing with a foundry. A foundry has a lot of other artists who caste with them, so you must get in line.
If someone wants to view your art and/or purchase your art, where would we do that?
Go to a gallery downtown, or put sculpture by Omar in your internet search engine.
How long have you been sculpting?
I have been sculpting stone and bronze for about 25 years. What you see here is left over from a show I did in Kansas City in 2000 called “the shapes of jazz” in stone and bronze. It was a great show about jazz in the early 1920s.
Do you have a favorite piece?
The last piece that I finish is always my favorite piece.
Do you have a primary theme for your work?
Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It depends on the series. I just did a series for a gallery downtown on high street called “broken pieces,” which reflects on people and how they are broken. Life itself is broken. I broke each piece that was part of the exhibit, then redid it. You can see where it was broken. I wanted to express how we are broken people. For example, heartaches, death, all the things that happen in life to break us. It took me about 2 years to put the pieces together.
Any advice for those coming behind you?
You must be dedicated. You must want to do this. If it doesn’t come naturally, don’t do it. You will not carve bronze or stone, if you don’t love it. It is just not going to happen. It is too hard.
I love creating art. It is my life line and without it, I am nothing. I love stone because once it is broken, that is it, ain’t no turning back. It presents a challenge and I love a challenge.
Sidebar: I enjoyed learning about the bronze process in producing works of art. Omar Shaheed gave real practical advice. His passion bled through his comments.
Tell me about the piece.
This is one of Ron Anderson’s students. Her look determined a lot. Through her eyes you can read the soul of this world. Who am I? I love being a black woman.
If someone wants to view your art and/or purchase your art where would we do that?
You just give me a call, 614-298-0028. My studio is at the King Arts Complex. I am on Facebook and Instagram (talleart), and my website is talleart.com.
What is your primary medium?
Oil on linen.
What are the challenges with working with oil and linen?
I have an old school process. I must stretch the linen.
Do you have a favorite piece?
Asking me which is my favorite piece is like asking me which my favorite child. All of them are precious to me.
Is there a common theme in your work?
Yes, the calabash.
I attended Fort Hayes many moons ago. I graduated from the Battelle Math/Science program. I am not sure if the gallery was around then. The gallery is very nice. They had live music, students performing spoken word, and China White’s dancers interpreting some of the pictures through dance. Two of the common themes I noticed concerning Ron’s work, were music and boxing. That might be because I enjoy gospel and jazz music and boxing. Ron was very gracious to those that came to celebrate his departure from teaching. He played a few bars on the trumpet.
While taking pictures, I heard many people tell Ron the impact he had on their lives. A few times he really seemed surprised. Observing the number of people who attended the event and waited around for an opportunity to talk to him, I concluded that Mr. Anderson made a lasting impact on those around him.