Abstract artist John R. Anderson was born in Yankton, South Dakota in 1931. John graduated from Yankton High School in 1950, thereafter attending the University of South Dakota. Before being drafted into the Army, he was a student at the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts, where he participated in Oskar Kokoschka’s symposia in 1952. He then earned his Bachelor of Fine Art at the University of Denver School of Art in 1958, when Vance Kirkland was its director.
Anderson was married on June 8, 1965 to Christine Sheail. To pursue his art, he and his wife moved to Mexico for three years where he painted extensively and held his first major show at the Guadalajara Jalisco State Gallery. He also showed his work in Dallas, and subsequently resided in London and Denver for several years. Anderson painted at the forefront of the Lyrical Abstraction movement, which was mostly unappreciated at the time.
His revolutionary abstract art was met with overtly hostile criticism and the couple returned to South Dakota in 1971, where he painted in isolation, developing a deep and authentic form of personal expression. According to Anderson, "in those days it was hit or miss, people did not understand abstract work." John continued to paint in a sanctuary of personal freedom and sincerity. Upon retirement, he painted full time, passionately working, often into the wee hours of the morning. "I’ve always wanted to paint. I knew I had some interesting things going on, but I was not always sure what way it was going to go. I started putting it on the floor. I started to see things. I could see more things. Two months later I was able to look at a painting and see even more things that I didn’t see before. And this has been the progression. I am seeing more as I get older,” said the artist in a 2018 interview.
The artist and his wife (right) at the Guadalajara Jalisco State Gallery, Guadalajara, late 1960s.
An afternoon with John Anderson, Yankton, November 2017.
John R. Anderson was a prolific painter.
Although Anderson held a solo show at the Yankton Area Arts Association at G.A.R. Hall in 2009, his paintings remained hidden from the rest of the world until 2018 when 51 of his lyrical abstract paintings were showcased for the exhibition Uncovered in Denver, Colorado and an eponymous art catalogue was published.
In 2019, his new collection of work Explored was shown in a group exhibition at the 73 Art Agency Skybox. The second catalogue, featuring works from across the artist’s career, including two early paintings from the 1960s, eight from the 1990s, and sixteen completed in 2018, was published by Spring Cedars in 2019.
In 2020, a selection of paintings was displayed at the South Dakota Art Museum for the Abstraction: Eight South Dakotans exhibition and two acquired for the museum's permanent art collection. In 2021, while battling and overcoming a COVID infection, Anderson held a solo show in Eleven Abstractions, an online exhibition. In 2022, 73 Art Agency held a two-person exhibition exploring the attraction of pairing different styles, specifically abstract and expressionist arts.
John R. Anderson’s work is representative of the Lyrical Abstraction style of the 1960s, a grand melody of color, texture, and movement. The emergence of Lyrical Abstraction, is rooted in Abstract Expressionism, the first authentically American avant-garde art movement that flourished in post-WWII. This unconventional approach to art reflected a time of ingenuity and evolution. Like the Action painters of that time, Anderson applied paint with energetic gestural movements - sometimes by dribbling or splashing - and with no preconceived idea of what the imagery will look like. He approached the canvas with expressive brush strokes and emphasized the physical act of painting as an essential part of the finished product. The artist merged the abstract and conceptual with bold color, making the work a medley of ideas, brushstroke, color, and emotion—hence, lyrical. The artist used large canvases and acrylic paint, treating all parts of the canvas with equal importance, moving between easel and floor for dripping, splattering, or smearing.
Despite not showing his work for almost 50 years, Anderson’s art has been very well received. Numerous experts in the field agree his paintings are exquisite examples of Lyrical Abstraction. "Every morning I look at my JRA, and every day I discover something new, be it shape, color, or message. It brightens my day, sometimes it challenges me in a positive way," said one of our clients. We could not agree more. John Anderson undeniably left his mark on the world of art.
John R. Anderson passed away in Yankton in 2021.
"All I ever wanted to do was paint." John R. Anderson