Omitted from mainstream histories of American painting, Anderson’s work has not received sufficient critical attention, perhaps because he chose to live in a small Southern town, patiently acquiring what he called “definite knowledge” of local forms.
Fiercely independent in spirit, indifferent to his own “career,” Anderson did nothing to cultivate fame or critical attention and sometimes seemed to flee them. When theBrooklyn Museuminvited him to an exhibition of his linoleum block prints in 1948, he chose instead to travel to China, where he hoped to gaze upon unknown landscapes and examine Tibetan murals (the China trip ended, deep inland, when his passport and other belongings were stolen and Anderson returned, partly on foot, to his point of departure in Hong Kong.) Anderson’s painting– a search for the spiritual and transcendent in the forms of the natural world – thrived on his love of limits, and the overwhelming majority of his best watercolors, undated and unsigned, were done on 8.5 x 11 typing paper with little thought for posterity. Rarely did he sign and date them.
For him, painting was simply a way of turning art and nature into “a single thing,” helping the natural world “realize” itself through the artist’s intervention “Order is here,” he wrote of Horn Island, “but it needs realizing,” and to him “realization”—a term which he seems to have borrowed from Cézanne, one of his favorite painters, and adapted to his own use—meant discovering and giving memorable form to unities missed by the casual observer.