Artist of the Week

David Onri Anderson

September 20, 2023

David Onri Anderson is a French-American, Tennessee-born artist, musician, and curator of French-Algerian Jewish ancestry. He has had solo exhibitions at Patrick Painter Gallery in Los Angeles, CA, Blaa Galleri in Copenhagen, DK, Harpy Gallery in Rutherford, NJ, David Lusk Gallery in Nashville, TN, Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center, and Institute 193 in Lexington, KY, amongst others. He has shown at the LA & Hamptons Art Fairs, the Atlanta Contemporary Museum, as well as the Alabama Contemporary Museum. His work has been reviewed in Art in America, Artnet, BURNAWAY, DailyLazy, Art & Antiques, and more. In 2020, he published a book of drawings with Zürich-based artist book company, Nieves. Anderson is the founder and curator of an artist-run space called Electric Shed Gallery in Nashville.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

I am a French-American, Sephardic-Jewish painter born and living in Nashville, TN. I mostly paint, cook, garden, make music, and explore the boundaries of my creative imagination.

How do you describe your practice?

My practice is rooted in spiritual expression. Painting is a way for me to make visible what is invisible, whether it is a force or virtue or being within my imaginative capacity. I think of my practice as a way to check in with myself and see what image is needed to get to the next step of personal realization.

Fruit Godmother, courtesy of the artist

What and who is influencing your work right now?

I am very moved by anyone who works hard at what they do, but carries no bitterness or expectation from their efforts. When the practice that someone carries makes them more themselves, more happy and alive and engaged, that is really influential to me. Someone doing their absolute best, but not competing and trying to prove they are the best. That’s the best!

Who are some of your favorite artists?

I love the ancient cave paintings from the Chauvet Cave in France, Andrei Rublev, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Agnes Pelton, Bill Traylor, Lucy T. Pettway, Miyoko Ito, Raoul de Keyser, Charles Burchfield, John Dilg, Jacob Lawrence, William Blake, William Hawkins, Giorgio De Chirico, Forrest Bess, Hilma af Klint, Agnes Martin, Paul Klee, to name a few.

Describe your current studio or workspace.

My current studio space is in the basement of the house I live in, in Tennessee. I’ve always loved painting in the basement. This basement is especially nice because it is mold-free!—as far as I know! 🙂 It is all rock, so I cannot use the walls, but there are shelves lining the whole perimeter of the space, so I lean paintings on the walls and shelves and stack them on each other. There are also matte gray painted cedar posts all throughout the middle parts, supporting the ceiling, which is just wood slats with nails coming through, no insulation. I hang paintings on these cedar posts as well. The studio is full of paintings both large and small right now, as well as sculptures, plants, drawings, painted bottles and jars, and a washer and dryer, as well as a door to the back yard, which is nice and crazy from not being mowed much this summer. Salamanders, spiders, crickets, flies and roaches abound in my studio, where I keep my precious babies.

Anderson’s studio

What are some of the best or worst reactions you have gotten to your work?

One time a good friend of mine brought her kids to see one of my shows. They made a video or two describing their favorite pieces in the show, and there is a part with her little girl saying, “I loved the rainbow painting, because rainbow is my favorite color!” I loved that!

What are the main motifs in the art you make?

My motifs are always changing, sometimes more slowly than other periods. Currently, I am feeling the spiral to be a focused geometric aspect of a lot of my figures and compositions as of late.

What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other artists are struggling with these days? How do you see these challenges developing or changing?

There is a two-fold challenge I am thinking of: With “success” comes the pressure to make more of the same thing, or make it ‘bigger and better’, or to just burn out by doing way too much. On the other hand if you “fail” or don’t get recognition or sales, you have to work hard at another job that can feel like it is taking away from your studio time too much. I want somehow to be busy enough to make ends meet, but not hyper-busy where I can’t stop and think about what I really want to do or say. I am seeing a shift in attitude here and there towards blind-ambition and the way capitalism makes people grind and burn out; so some awareness is happening and starting to take effect. Perhaps it will go toward having less work days, and more thoughts about people’s needs, such as sabbath or siestas, etc.

Death-Eating Dragon, image courtesy of the artist

Any recent, upcoming, or current projects you are working on?

I am super excited to be included in a group show commemorating the life of St. Eddie Owens Martin at Pasaquan and Bo Bartlett Center in Buena Vista, GA. St. EOM was an amazing individual and “outsider” artist who founded a spirituality he called Pasaquan, and built a super colorful psychedelic temple and hut and meditation center in Buena Vista, Georgia. My friends Pete and Amy of Fuel and Lumber Company are putting on a large, two-opening exhibition with artists and musicians from all over the world that fit this spiritual vibe of ST. EOM. It’s going to be very special! Opening September 15 and up until December 16.

What do you want a viewer to walk away with after seeing your work?

I hope the viewer feels empowered to do something they believe needs to happen. Even if it’s just a small thing.

What have you been reading and listening to lately?

I have been taking in a lot of esoteric lectures from Rudolf Steiner, Madame Blavatsky, and Esoterica on YouTube. I also like to listen to podcasts about ancient civilizations, particularly the Akkadians, Sumerians, and Egyptians. I just finished reading Thought Forms by Annie Besant and CW Leadbeater. Music-wise I like to find new stuff constantly, but I find myself listening to Alice Coltrane, Burning Spear, Francis Bebey, Funkadelic, Les Rallizes Denudes, Minnie Riperton, Neu!, Om, Orransi Pazuzu, Pauline Anna Strom, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sonny Sharrock, Sun Ra, Terry Riley, Thelonious Monk, Wolves In The Throne Room, Zmrok on my iPhone music library.

Favorite quotes/mantras?
Dayenu. Which is Hebrew for “it would have been sufficient.” If I had a tiny apartment, and not a house, dayenu!
Rainbow Being, image courtesy of the artist

What catalyzed your interest in art?

Since I was 3 years old, I remember loving drawing and painting, and feeling like whenever something really impacts me, I need to make it into an image. When I was 16, I experienced a near-death incident in a tumultuous Atlantic Ocean. After surviving that, I felt really dedicated to living my life to the fullest as an artist.

What do you collect?

I love to collect rocks. I keep them on a MDF board next to my nightstand. They make me feel calm.

The Alchemist, image courtesy of the artist

Interview conducted and edited by Natalie Toth