I saw his work several years ago and knew about him through mutual friends. In honor of his recent passing, I wanted to share and article I wrote about him several years ago. He leaves a void in Atlanta that will be felt for a long time.
Larry Jens Anderson: The Atlanta Years (1979- 2015) The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia By Marea Haslett
Walking into The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (MOCA GA) to view the exhibition of Larry Jens Anderson: The Atlanta Years (1979- 2015) offers an unexpectedly important experience. Amassing 35 years of production and organized in the theme of life as a gay man dealing with barriers, family, death and AIDS, this retrospective offers an inside look into the struggles of gay life. Larry Jens Anderson’s Retrospective processes the battle of homosexuality through a personal life. Moving through the pain and suffering with shear authenticity leaves space for healing in its midst. Anderson begins by asking the question: Where Do Queers Come From? The mere fact that the question needs to be asked sets the stage. The mixed media works with accessible images taken from the children book series of Dick and Jane minus Jane. These images compact both the illustration of a young boy dealing with his identity and confront the barriers he has against popular culture and society. The absence of Jane creates a focus on the conflicts Dick faces as he earns his badges of “fruitcake” and “queen”.
As a viewer moving through the work, barriers crumble to my feet. The view from this vantage is one not just highlighting societal issues with homosexuality but with a person who is connected to his rural home in Kansas and his family, specifically his twin brother, and the community built as an adult. It’s a personal journey but not for the light hearted.
56 baseball caps are mounted on a wall as trophies from his Christian Revenge Series. Each cap is printed with various lethal diseases thanking God for each one. This series was began after Anderson saw a cap with Thank God for AIDS printed across the brow. Responding with Thank God for Breast Cancer or Thanks God for Suicide exposes the degree of barriers people living with AIDS deal with. The use of baseball caps, which are worn in rural areas as badges of personal truths for the wearer, is a perfect reflection of the absurdity and ignorance that comes from Fundamental Christian doctrine.
Anyone viewing this work who was alive in the 80s and 90s can’t help but be overwhelmed by the work dealing with AIDS. However, the impact takes you through the emotions of that time no matter your age. Knives and shovels symbolizing death abound this work leading you to a centerpiece of a cloth wrapped figure hanging over a grave. The corpse reveals his thoughts in a video with AIDS activist Kurt Rahn speaking to “hold on” for a cure. He did not see the chance for a cure in his lifetime, but his sobering message extends an importance to carry on his work.
A wall stands next to this homage with the words Friends Lost to AIDS: written above scribes of names added to its surface offering a moment of honor and healing to those who have lost friends and loved ones to this disease.
I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement for weeks now. I’ve been asking myself, “Where do we go from here?”
Of course, the answer lies in our small actions made on a daily basis.
Also, I feel this quote sums up the basis of at least my path and hopefully the path of my children. It’s all about how we look at ourselves and our place in this world and how we treat people those whom which we share our path. It seems such a basic thing but taken for granted way too often.
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway
For the length of my career as an art educator, I’ve stood firm on the belief in art therapy as a tool to manage life. I’ve watched it help students and loved ones for years. Now, I need to improve my own practices.
I’m preparing for my upcoming show at the same time of dealing with the loss of my father. My work, my emotions, my frustrations, my to- do list have all become intertwined into a messy, grey hodge- podge. It is what it is. This too shall pass and transform into new life. The process of letting go and opening up to creative flow is not a “one and done” kind of thing. I’m finding I need to develop an ongoing process of letting go/ then holding on/ then letting go/ then holding on.
During this process of transformation, I’m really trying to stick to a routine. No. I’m not really in the “mood” to paint or do the laundry. All I really want to do is sleep and put my head in the sand. But that doesn’t help anyone! I need to keep moving, and as my Dad would say, just put one foot in front of the other.
Here are a few of the upcoming paintings for the show. There are four additional ones not pictured. There will be four from my previous work and eight new ones.