Jon Stuart Anderson, considered one of the most accomplished artist working in polymer clay today, discovered his chosen medium while living in Mexico in the early 90s. Educated in art, with an MS in botany, Jon was among the innovative artists adopting and modifying the ancient techniques of millifiore and Japanese neriage. As his designs expanded exponentially, Jon Anderson had found a limitless well of creativity, and the medium to express it. What could polymer clay do. What could the artist do to further push the boundaries of this new art medium, and of himself.
It's been a few years now since this writer tried to crack the nut, that is, entice (coerce) Jon to talk about his art with even half the energy of his design and process. Nothing is quite as frustrating as getting monosyllabic responses from an artist clearly passionate about his work. And this insider knows that Jon is no stranger to eloquent persuasion toward his point of view on any other topic. But that's part of the enigma that is Jon Anderson, an artist of intensely articulate work and few words on the subject; a man who can barely calculate a tip in countries where the standard is 10 percent, yet creates complicated polymer clay design based in Pythagorean theorem and Divine Proportion.
With the launch of his online gallery, www.JonStuartAnderson.com, Jon has finally acquiesced to get out of his studio, and talk about his art.
SM: You've been called the best polymer clay artist in the world. What do you think gives you this distinction?
JSA: I'm flattered by the compliment. But to my knowledge, there aren't that many people working in polymer clay as a vocation. I’ve worked with the clay for almost 25 years. It's my medium. I'm at home with it. As far as being the "best?" No one is the best. Art isn’t a sport. Any art form is an individual pursuit. I make animals because I want them.
I may be the "best" at accumulating scrap clay though. Pulling hundreds of canes over and over really makes a lot of scrap.
Did I answer the question? What was it?
SM: Polymer clay is a difficult medium to master. To what do you owe your success with it?
JSA: Ha! Master polymer clay? I don’t think anyone could live long enough. But look at polymer rock stars like Kathleen Dustin. She keeps getting better and better. By the way, the venetian blinds in her “Vacuum Venus” started a fire of possibilities in my mind. I really hope my work does that same thing for other artists.
The answer to your question is self-discipline. There’s a lot of grunt work that doesn’t really involve a lot of creativity, but you have to get it done.
SM: Of all the other sculpting mediums, why did you choose polymer clay?
JSA: In 1989 I was working with Robert Shields, the mime guy. I made the art for his galleries, and he signed his name to everything. He compensated me by paying me enough for a shack on the Sea of Cortez. And by shack I mean no glass in the windows, no door, and a shovel for my bathroom on the beach. I was 29 at the time. I had enough money to buy beer and art supplies. It was heaven.
Then in 1990, he came down from the States with three little squares of rock hard Fimo. He was excited because he had seen polymer clay beads selling for $4 USD a bead. It was now my job to make 4-dollar beads from Anthracite, Transparent and Red. Once the clay softened up, I fell in love. The resolution was PERFECT. I was hooked.
SM: You moved from Mexico to Bali. How has living in two uniquely folk-art driven cultures inspired your work?
JSA: I love folk art more than anything in a Fine Art museum. My latest obsession is collecting Indonesian mud flaps from the back of trucks. I actually get into the oncoming traffic and wave the driver over. These rubber slabs have so much soul. The driver painted them to express himself, with the knowledge that the cars behind him would have to take in his work along with the diesel exhaust. They’re sort of like billboards, but not selling anything. He’s showing his naked fantasies (often literally) to the world. The Art world needs more heroes like these guys.
SM: Naked soul seems to factor into your work too. How would you describe your style?
JSA: My style is impossible to hide. It’s both three dimensional and graphic. But I can't hang a name on it. My work is an artifact of my mind brought to a 3D sculptural form. But I do have goals built into my work. I’ve learned how to catch the eye using color. Small amounts of awful contrast, like yellow and lavender pointing in opposing directions, is one method. Then, once someone is with me, they’ll begin to see the hundreds of images that tell the story. With a piece in hand, all the questions of how my work is created just drop out by themselves. The big pay off for me is the look of an adult experiencing a visionary state for just a second.
SM: Could you name one thing you turn to for inspiration?
JSA: Everything I do can be traced back to nature. I use images I see in meditative states, or snorkeling. I got my love of symmetry from nature. But I'm also drawn to pipes and gauges and things mechanical. In some ways my work is a collision of the natural and industrial world, for example making animals from polyvinyl chloride.
SM: You recently broke away from your solitary creative practice to collaborate with both Hand Guitars and carver Lee Downy.
JSA: I discovered I like to collaborate with other artists that I know are going to challenge me. Last year I went to Hungary for a workshop with Dorothy Feibleman. She's done things no one else has done in porcelain. She’s broken rules, pushed her medium. I admire that. And her work.
SM: Having worked for so long breaking ground in a relatively new medium, you've gained some imitators.
JSA: I also find inspiration in other people’s work. But I have a very strict process. I look at it briefly, and then I close the book. I’m careful to make all of my work mine.
SM: What are your goals as an artist?
JSA: I thought a lot about that when I wrote my artist statement. This is the age of oil. Oil has vandalized the planet. I want to make work that will leave a carbon footprint of beauty, rather than destruction. And, in whatever way I can, give my chosen medium of polymer clay the nobility it deserves. Polymer clay allows me to express myself completely. I can do everything with it but synchronized swimming.
SM: Is there a question you’ve never been asked but want to answer?
JSA: Yes. No one talks about the physical impact of working with polymer clay. It can be very destructive to your arms, hands, elbows and shoulders. Always warm up first. In fact I’m working on a tutorial of hand yoga. It’s specific hand and tendon warm ups that will allow you to work pain free for longer periods of time.
SM: Lastly, short of practicing your hand yoga, any words of advice for aspiring polymer clay artists?
JSA: Work. And cherish mistakes. Never think you’re good enough. My advice is to chase your desire, your vision. You’ll never catch it. But one must try. I sell my work so I can feed my PC habit. At the same time I'll get all obsessed about an idea that I know I could never sell, but I must have it…
Finish what you start. If it really sucks put it where you'll see it - bad work is a wonderful teacher. Then get back to work on a better one.