Nashville native and Watkins alum David Onri Anderson makes art that overflows with esoteric symbolism, but still manages to be down-to-earth. His solo show of paintings and sculptures, Elements — now on view at David Lusk Gallery — includes “Test of Time,” a large-scale painting that combines ideas about local and global issues in a way that is representative of the artist’s vision, but is also urgent in a way that many of his paintings are not. I spoke to Anderson about this particular painting during a recent gallery visit.
“I was born in Nashville, and I’ve stayed here because I really love how close I can be to nature and to the community,” he says. “But the more I see buildings coming up and down, the more I feel this sort of temporal thing that doesn’t ever satisfy, and doesn’t give identity to the community. It feels like it just pulls us back and forth. I was thinking about how the Roman Empire fell, and the British Empire fell, and how there’s all these empires trying to take over the world, and they all fall. And so I want that — I want that empire to fall, and I want nature to continue to thrive and grow. Instead of a Roman column, I want a big tree.
“The intention behind it was to show how I want life and nature — the idea of a tree — to be our source of power and our source of identity and vitality. I wanted to say, like, instead of the Roman Empire, or the empire of objects and monuments, what if we let the tree be the monument? Or let earth be our temple? Or let nature be our source of value and pride?
“The rootedness, the dark gnarliness of the trunk and the greenness of the leaves — these are all representative colors and textures and feelings of what the revolution can embody. To me, the revolution is not something that we all need to figure out how to build, but it’s to figure out how to get rid of some things so that other things can grow.
“I usually like to make paintings that are constructive — that present something beautiful. But this time, I wanted to destroy something so that life can grow.”