I hear it almost every time I post an image of my work, especially from Mississippians, “Your work reminds me of Walter Anderson.”
I always smile politely, because the person doesn’t realise that they have just given me the highest compliment I could receive. But before you can really understand why, you need a little backstory. You see, my entire childhood was bounced around the Southern United States as an oil field kid, always hearing my parents talk about how “home” was really Laurel, MS. When I was finishing up the third grade, I remember my parents sitting my brother and I down and telling us that we would be moving. Again.
For a lot of people that would be devastating, uprooting your life and going somewhere new, but for me this is what happened every few years. We finished up the school year, and packed up our home, but this time it was different. This time my mom was excited about the move, this time we weren’t moving to a new place with unfamiliar schools and unfamiliar faces. This time we were moving home. Although it was a place that I had never lived, it was the place where my dad had been named Northeast Jones Most Handsome 1972, where my parents had met on a blind date where waterskiing and sunless tanner had been involved, where they started a life together, where my older brother was born.
We were moving back home to Laurel.
My mother was a teacher and had gotten a job at a small private school in downtown, the same school she had done her student teaching when she first began her career. I had always gone to public school, but since my mom taught there, I began my fourth grade year at St. John’s Day School in a class of eight. The school was housed in an old home that had been donated to the episcopal church in 1950. The whole ordeal was better than any novel I had at my disposal. My seven classmates and I spent three magical years enjoying being kids, but the best part about my time at St. John’s was Thursday afternoons.
On Thursday afternoons, a woman set up her things in one of the upstairs bedrooms of the old house (the whole upstairs had been converted to a multiroom library at this point). She was there to teach a handful of students private art lessons. She wouldn’t let us call her Mrs. Thames, she insisted that we call her Lisa T. I had never met someone that cool in my entire life. She opened new doors of creativity for me, challenging me with art supplies that were so foreign. Blending with oil pastels, building tin foil armatures and covering them with paper mache, drawing still lifes… Every Thursday was an adventure. Lisa not only taught us about mediums and techniques, but she introduced us to ART.
Seeing my interest in the piece, Lisa T taught us about the seven motifs, and how everything Walter drew used those motifs because they could be found in nature. We took a field trip with my small class down to Ocean Springs to see his museum where we heard the tales of him tying himself to a pine tree to see the inside of the hurricane, and I remember seeing the beautiful little room packed with more imagery than you could even look at. After that trip, you couldn’t find me inside. It sent me into the woods behind our little house drawing everything I could see, observing nature and documenting my findings. My fascination continued through highschool and into college.
I was blessed with another amazing teacher at Mississippi State, Brent Funderburk, who was a friend of the Anderson family. The way he pushed me to embrace the “magic” of Walter’s style, but also to reach and find my own voice inside of the motifs. He helped me navigate the techniques of watercolor, and to embrace the accidents and bleeds that were bound to occur. It was in that time that I also fell in love with lines, patterns, and the beauty of simplicity. Walter explored those lines through block prints, but I found my adventure in a bottle of ink and a brush.
It’s been 25 years since that little nine year old boy saw the beautiful lines created from a Mississippi Legend. Since then I have learned to use those lines to tell my own story. The story of growing up in the south. The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. It’s a story full of memories. Sunday lunch on my grandmother’s china, exploring in the woods and crossing paths with wildlife, my mom’s daisies blooming in the yard, laying on the grass looking up at the moon… Every piece of the story, no matter how large or small, becomes impactful in my work, and to tell my story, I use the same language of Walter.