"Aint Natural" at the Hammerfriar Gallery, Paul Mahder Gallery, also in Healdsburg (and quite new, apparently; I discovered it by chance only a couple of weeks ago), opened a retrospective of work by John Anderson (1932-2011). John Anderson is a new artist to me, although he appears to have a solid reputation. He was long the assistant of painter Gordon Onslow Ford, early a surrealist who was later occupied with depicting inner realms of consciousness and trying to escape from what he seems to have seen as the tyranny of the visual. Ford was a mentor to Anderson and Anderson's work shows a similar concern with capturing expressions of inner consciousness.
I'm always suspicious of art that seems to rely heavily on theory or that claims to be entirely spontaneous and unguided. The idea of representing inner consciousness without reference to the visual is an intriguing one, but is it really possible? What does consciousness look like? The surrealists looked to dreams for images of the unconscious, but that approach was inherently contradictory; dream images ultimately are images rooted in the visual, images from waking life (which isn't to say surrealism didn't yield some good art). Ford and Anderson apparently wanted to go beyond dreams to directly depict a world beyond consciousness--Ford emphasizing speed and spontaneity, Anderson taking a more deliberate approach, at times trying to work in a trance-like state.
The paintings by Anderson in the new Paul Mahder show seem to make abundant reference to the visual--specifically to the visual language of physics and biology. Thus, I wonder how successful Anderson can be said to have been at escaping the conscious, the visual. Perhaps it doesn't matter. I don't belittle the attempt. The process is important, and the art that resulted from years of effort toward achieving a goal (however elusive) is compelling. John Anderson at Paul Mahder Gallery will be on display through June 2015 (the gallery website does not give an end-date in June). Well worth a visit for the John Anderson work and a great deal of other good work in this very large display space.