The art and ethos of Ed Anderson

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – Every September, artist Ed Anderson books out the guest lodge he bought with his father on the Payette River south of McCall, Idaho, for a week of solitude and sketching, interspersed with visits from hunting and fishing friends.

Although his gestural renditions of wildlife in paint and ink that spring from illustrated journals suggest otherwise, Anderson doesn’t “jones for fishing or hunting.”

“Right now I’m looking out at the river in a rain storm with the mountains coming in and out of the fog,” Anderson said during a Sept. 20 phone interview. “That’s enough reason to be up here—the hunting is more of an excuse.”

Most of Anderson’s large-scale paintings stem from illustrated journals that are works of art in and of themselves.

Anderson has found a way to blend his affinity for outdoor adventure with the narratives he’s compelled to tell through art. Whether fishing in Cuba, Florida, Mozambique, Mexico or his backyard, for Anderson it comes down to chronicling his experience or, as he puts it, “cataloging Americana.”

What constitutes “Americana” is ill-defined, but that’s part of what Anderson likes about it.

“Americana describes an iconography I’m constantly searching for,” Anderson said. “It’s a broad big swath … it’s everything really.”

Everything the artist has experienced firsthand that is. And fortunately for Anderson that has been a lot—from being an in-house artist for Professional Bull Riders to increasingly frequent partnerships with companies like Patagonia and conservation organizations, which seek to protect the land and waterways where he finds the inspiration for his artwork.

“I think art is an experience of what is around you,” Anderson said. “I get frustrated by artists that aren’t cataloguing their experience; they’re painting pretty pictures. What gets missed is the experiential part [which] I think is really important.”

For Anderson, that means shying away from most commissions because they are not a part of his story, and keeping his work as honest as possible is one of his tenets.

“As an artist the line between that fiction is so easy to cross,” he said. “I can tell stories about Indians in the 1850s, but I might as well be painting dragons and fairies—it’s not honest.”

The experiential aspect is most evident in Anderson’s journals that blend colorful sketches and storytelling. Although he often bases his larger works off of these illustrations, pages from his books have been made into prints that belong on a gallery wall as surely as the resultant paintings. Conservation groups have also commissioned custom journal pages to capture their message. Anderson is currently working on a project for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, focusing on the proposed Paradise Valley mine, which will be made public in June 2018.

“It happened naturally,” Anderson said. “I’m lucky to be able to help them get their mission promoted and journal stories are a good way to tell their story. Any time I can help the organizations that do what I like to do, I do whatever I can.”

Anderson’s career is currently blasting off with so much velocity he isn’t able to paint fast enough to meet the demand. And while he’s made art his entire life, his newfound success stems from a style that broke open for him only five years ago.

At an opening for a show in Ketchum, Idaho, the gallery owner suggested Anderson do some sketching on the street.

Artist Ed Anderson at work in his Boise, Idaho studio. 

The exercise led to doing more live art and evolved into the quick draw, sketch aesthetic that defines his current work.

Anderson begins by applying copious amounts of watered-down acrylics that he lets drip down the canvas, creating what he calls a “controlled mess.” He finishes by going over the top with ink, a simple Sharpie marker these days, to detail the form.

“The ink gives me a sense of control to bring it back in,” he said.

It also gives the impression of movement and a fast looseness of line, although there is nothing hasty about his process.

Finding himself in a period of exponential growth, Anderson is amazed by how far his style has evolved in a few short years and awed by where it might go from here.

Today, his work can be found all over the country, but that’s not to say the artist hasn’t experienced his share of failures too—and like all creative types he has to battle self-doubt from time to time.

“The hard part is I don’t know how the style is going to evolve,” Anderson said. “The scariest thing for me is trying and failing … in my mind’s eye it has a long way to go but it really comes down to whether I’m able to execute it at the level I want to.”

But press on an artist must. Quoting painter Chuck Close who famously said, “Inspiration is for amateurs,” Anderson added, “Even when you’re scared and depressed and you don’t think you can create anything good you just have to.”

Ed Anderson’s art work can be found locally at Horse of a Different Color in Big Sky. More of his work can be seen at edandersonart.com.