A centennial biography of one of the American South's most prolific and idiosyncratic artists
Walter Anderson (1903-1965) was a prolific, fiercely individual artist renowned for his matchless style, his lonely independence, and his astonishingly creative works of art. Devoted to the beauty of the natural world, Anderson emblazoned the events of his everyday life into art that expressed a unique and absorbing vision.
This compelling biography, published in celebration of his centennial, draws on Anderson's voluminous journals and graphic works, the previously unpublished papers of family members and friends, and archival materials from several American museums.
In his creative diversity he was both an artist and a naturalist who left the art world paintings, prints, murals, journals, wood carvings, ceramic works, poems, aphorisms, and pen-and-ink illustrations of literary works. Despite poverty and mental anguish, Anderson called himself "Fortune's favorite child." Few artists have been more grateful than Anderson for the moments of artistic truth extracted from adversity, isolation, and illness.
He was the second of three sons of a good-natured grain merchant and a strong-willed New Orleans society woman who encouraged the children to devote their lives to art. After studying in New York, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and in Europe, Anderson returned to the South and settled in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to live by his art. During the Depression he earned a meager living by decorating pottery and designing figurines for his family's pottery, Shearwater.
Spending his life on the edge of the art world and the edge of society, Anderson fell into many intense adventures, for which his community regarded him as an eccentric. In 1937 he suffered a devastating attack of mental illness that foreshadowed a long battle with emotional turmoil. In an escape from a mental institution in Baltimore, he trekked a thousand miles homeward. Occasionally he lived in self-isolation on Horn Island. He sallied south to Costa Rica to hunt orchids. He rambled across China during the Maoist revolution.
In tracing a life that the artist himself regarded with gratitude and wonder, this biography recounts the story of Anderson's marriage and fatherhood, his bouts with illness, his creative periods of astonishing work, and his spells as a solitary rover expressing his artistic vision and searching for spiritual fulfillment.
Christopher Maurer, head of the department of Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese at the University of Illinois-Chicago, is the author (with Maria Estrella Iglesias) of Dreaming in Clay on the Coast of Mississippi: Love and Art at Shearwater. His work has appeared in the New Republic, the New York Times, Hispanic Review, and El País (Madrid).
400 pp., 20 color illustrations, 75 line drawings, 30 b&w photographs, index