Public Art, Oil Paintings, and Social Activism- The Work of Eric Anderson

 Image of Anderson's painting that will be featured at Forager show. Photo courtesy of Eric Anderson.

Image of Anderson's painting that will be featured at Forager show. Photo courtesy of Eric Anderson.

Local artist, writer, and social activist Eric Anderson is witnessing his visions take form.

This Rochester creator has not one, but two public art installments that will hopefully come to fruition in the near future. Next week, his first ever solo-artist show will take place at Forager Brewing Company, where people will attend to exclusively experience his art.

 Photo of Eric Anderson from the Discovery Square Community Celebration and Innovation Showcase in November.

Photo of Eric Anderson from the Discovery Square Community Celebration and Innovation Showcase in November.

A transplant to the Rochester area, Anderson grew up in a military family and frequently moved as a child. The longest time he spent in one place was in a rather bleak sounding region of southeastern Virginia, aptly called “the Great Dismal Swamp.” This area, as the name suggests, is a marshy, wildlife-filled area where Anderson lived with his family on a military communications base.

“I think that’s where the creativity side kicked in. You have the world to play with, but you didn’t really have anything to do,” Anderson joked.

Eight years ago, he moved to Rochester from Boston with his wife Rose, a Product Manager at Mayo Clinic. Since that time, the pair have become deeply engaged in the Rochester community with different social justice and entrepreneurial endeavors. Just this past year, they worked with four high school students to remove gender bias from the Rochester Home Charter Rule, a document that establishes how the city is governed.

In 2016, the couple became involved in the Rochester PlaceMakers Prototyping Festival- an event hosted by Destination Medical Center, the Rochester Art Center, and Rochester Downtown Alliance- where teams of city residents developed small prototypes that could transform public space, revolving around the concept of health and the built environment.

Anderson had several ideas for his team’s design, most of which involved some sort of wayfinding. During the process, however, he was struck by a vivid memory. While doing his undergraduate studies in Boston, Anderson worked a nighttime security detail at a local hospital to earn some money. At times, the hospital received patients who needed to be restrained, for their safety or for the safety of others. After he assisted in restraining a patient for the first time, Anderson said a lullaby immediately began playing over the intercom system in that same room. Later, he learned this signified the birth of a baby just a few floors above in the hospital.

This experience, Anderson said, exploded the context of the moment; the sound of the lullaby was so removed from the experience he just had within that same building. The event helped him to “realize the complexity of life, almost right there before you in a very strange way.

During the Prototyping Festival, Anderson wanted to create a similar experience to relay individual health events- like the completion of a final round of chemotherapy or the awarding of a 24-hour Alcoholic Anonymous token- to the public. He saw this as a way to connect people to their neighbors and to share these significant health moments with the Rochester community. And as a bonus, Anderson’s concept would use infrastructure that was already in place- Mayo Clinic Information Technology (IT) and the actual landscape of downtown Rochester.

By the end of the process, Anderson’s team developed a working prototype that utilized Mayo technology in a de-identified and safe way. His three-dimension structure, The Artery, would share significant health events occurring within the clinic as different, ever changing colors of light.

The design was one of four prototypes selected by the Heart of the City Design Team to potentially be included in the final DMC Heart of the City sub-district. Anderson says a massive 40 x 30-foot Artery is currently part of the design schematics for the revitalized Peace Plaza area. Hopefully, he will see his concept come to completion in the community in 2019.

Anderson said there will likely be a key near the base of The Artery to help identify the significance of the colored lights displayed by the art piece. Eventually, he hopes the meaning of the colors will become “part of the language of the city,” where people will just understand what it means when the installation turns violet, red, or blue, for example.

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“[The Artery] creates new interaction points as well as conversations. Once people have it, I think they’ll have it,” he explained.

Public art pieces, like The Artery, are important additions for a healthy community, Anderson said. They can act as magnets and draw people to under-utilized regions of the city. They can also help people to interact with and think differently about their surroundings. Plus, art, such as the new installation outside of the Rochester Civic Center, means different things to different individuals.

“There’s no right answer to what it is. I think that’s important in a city, especially one that’s so predicated on clinical practice and checking a box ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” he said.

As an artist, Anderson is juggling several projects at the moment. In addition to The Artery, he’s also designing an installation for the 2018 Open Source Pharma conference in Bangalore, India.

He also works in oils.

“What I like about oil painting is that it’s very forgiving,” Anderson explained.

He spent several years persistently learning the technique of master painters. Unlike public art, he says it’s sometimes difficult to paint, knowing the limited amount of people who may experience it, especially if the work is purchased by an individual.

“But that’s fascinating to think about making something someone passively or non-passively interacts with for the rest of their life,” he said.

Anderson will display some of these works next Monday at Forager Brewing Company as a Gallery 24 featured artist.

“This will be my first time having a lot of [my art] in one big place and then everyone maybe going to look just at it. So, it’s a little terrifying,” he admitted.

Anderson says that writing, which he thinks is much more personal than painting, helped him prepare for moments like this. He has a “folder full of rejections” from sending writing pieces off to different literary journals. But, he’s learned to not take these “failures” too personal.

“I realize it’s not me, ever. It’s not the piece, typically. It’s other reasons,” he explained. “There’s limitations on something that someone else is looking for. So, it was the rejection, the acceptance, that helped so much to go through that with writing.”

Although there are no dedicated collegiate art programs in Rochester, Anderson says it’s a healthy time to be in the art community here. Local art can be shown at a variety of places around town like Rochester Community and Technical College, Gallery 24, Forager Brewing, Café Steam, 125 Live, SEMVA Art Gallery, and Dunn Brothers North.

“There’s all these outlets and all these things happening,” he stated.