Recently I was searching through my files for paintings I had done of animals. I was pleasantly surprised how often I have chosen an animal as subject matter for my paintings. In this particular painting, I was trying to find something to paint for an art show. It was a juried art show sponsored by The Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, Ms. The show was to be of paintings the artists did that were inspired by the works of Walter Anderson.
As a teacher on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for twenty-five years, Walter Anderson and Shearwater Pottery were subjects I taught on every year. Sometimes I taught about him through watercolor, sometimes I might teach about him through block prints. I also used him to teach about design such as line, shape, space. Then there was his symbolisms, nature, and always his life as an artist on the Gulf Coast. Through those many years of teaching about him, I felt like I got to know about him pretty well.
Walter Anderson had some well know issues with mental illness and it could be questioned whether that added to or hurt his genius. It is a question that will never truly be answered, but I feel that I would have enjoyed getting to know Mr. Walter. I have always enjoyed interesting "characters". I don't make light of mental illness. It is a hard way to live for all involved. But there is a saying, "In the South, we don't hide crazy, we parade it on the front porch and give it sweet tea." I have enjoyed people with a quirky nature, an interesting way of living, and an interesting story to tell. I think I would have enjoyed hearing Walter Anderson's views on nature, life, and painting. The things he painted are very much the subject matter that inspires me to paint. We don't paint in the same style but we are drawn to the beauty of our Gulf Coast surroundings.
When I received the information about the juried show on paintings inspired by Walter Anderson, I started looking around for a subject to do in my interpretation of his style. Now, for thirty something years I rode and showed horses. My horse was boarded, at the time, in Vancleave, Mississippi, just north of Ocean Springs. As I was walking out to bring my horse in from the pasture, I had to walk through a flock of geese. This flock of about 20 to 30 geese had moved into the pasture about two years before and came back every year. I thought that they were pretty smart birds to choose this location. It was about a ten acre pasture with ponds and a lot of open grazing arear. The horses didn't bother them and the barn cats knew they weren't interested in them. Horse people are mostly "Big" animal lovers and they were about as safe as they could be. It was really very cool to be just walk through such a wild and natural experience without them having any form of fear or anxiety of us being in their space. They accepted us humans as just another horse.
One day, as I was heading out to get my horse, I started walking through them. I was thinking and looking around for a subject for the show and I became aware of the moment and standing among the flock. I thought back to a time that Walter swam out into the middle of a group of pelicans floating in the Gulf. He wrote about the experience of just living amongst these beautiful birds. I stopped and thought the paintings he did of pelicans. Right there in the midst of this natural wildlife experience, I thought this is what I should paint. I became aware of the actions of the geese. They implemented so many of Walter Anderson's use of design. They seemed to move together in a synchronized movement. Their necks curved in line as they walked along picking up grain from the ground. Their colors were very bold and graphic. They walked together in repetitive forms. Their movement was almost in a formation and their little legs kicked straight up and down in a marching way. The thought that came to me was, "they seem like they are marching like German soldiers from World War II"! Now I know this was an airheaded thought because I immediately rolled my eyes and laughed at myself and thought, "da, the Geese walk that way, the German soldiers walk like them!"
I chose the geese as the subject to paint using Walter Anderson's style of painting. It was juried into the show. I share with you my admiration for Walter Anderson and a moment where I was accepted into the world of these wild geese. My painting, Goose Steps.
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