The Auto Part Sculptures of Johnny Anders - Intuitive Eye
Public art can make a significant contribution to the cultural life of a community. From the monuments dedicated to ancient gods and rulers to the modern day fabric covered environmental works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, public art has held an influential place in society. At its best, art specifically created for public spaces can give deeper meaning to a place and underline its history. It can stimulate the public's imagination and thus its participation in the artistic process. It serves to revitalize both places and people.
However, there are inherent tensions in the contemporary world of public art. Currently, public art is often part of a municipal or bureaucratic process. Typically, a local government or corporate entity "commissions" a piece of art and subsequently seeks to maintain some input and control regarding its content. This can result in what some have termed "art by committee" with all of the pitfalls that the term implies. Artists can be deeply invested in the integrity of their creative vision while a government is attempting to be inoffensive and appeal to a majority of its citizens. Oscar Wilde captured the dilemma well when he offered, "Art should never try to be popular, the public should try to make itelf more artistic."
In the small West Texas town of Stamford (pop.3394) artist Johnny Anders has been able to successfully bridge the sometimes conflictual worlds of art and institutional bureaucracy. He does so by being The Mayor. Born and raised in Stamford, Johnny Anders operates a third generation auto mechanic and body shop established by his grandfather in 1923. He is proud to be a loyal hometown businessman and citizen in a town that often quickly loses its best and brightest to the allure and opportunities of the big city. After serving on the City Council, Anders became Mayor in 2007 and gets good reviews from his constituents. I recently visited with Mayor Johnny Anders in his office at Anders Paint and Body to discuss his other life as an artist. I began by asking about his initial inspiration to construct a welded dinosaur from discarded auto parts. Anders described how "in 1979 the large cars being produced in the United States were being called 'Dinosaurs from Detroit' and I thought that I could build a dinosaur from the unused parts around the shop." Beginning without a plan, he worked as time allowed while operating his busy shop, finally completing the 30 foot sculpture after six months. The dinosaur was installed on his property a few blocks off the town square and was met with the expected curiosity and amusement. Encouraged by the success of this first project, Johnny's imagination became more engaged with the materials he would accumulate in his auto body repair shop. His next creation continued with the dinosaur theme, this time resulting in an amusingly imposing Tyrannosaurus Rex standing over 25 feet tall. It was installed along one of the town's busy thoroughfares, until recently toppling over in a high wind. Johnny described how working without a predetermined plan allows him to work slowly and intuitively. For instance, when beginning with the dinosaur's legs, he did not have any idea what the head would be made of. This allows him to "see" what the various car parts can be, in this case, the oil pans that ultimately became the creature's head. Over the next 25 years other, more varied creatures followed, each with its own imaginative use of salvaged materials. A menacing walking stick made of drive shafts, a millipede constructed of over one hundred tire rims and curving over one hundred feet long and a sublimely abstract spider with the body of a mini car called an Isetta completed his makeshift menagerie
When he was elected Mayor of Stamford in 2007, Anders saw the opportunity to blend his civic and artistic aspirations. He expressed how he has sought to have his creations serve as a "calling card" for the town saying, "if I can get just one extra person to stop in Stamford to look at them and then buy a hamburger or a tank of gas, then i have succeeded." To that end, he has placed three sculptures across from the town's municipal park where they further animate the public space. Anders says the public response to his creations has been very positive. The children have pet names for the sculptures and a group of art students have adopted their preservation and upkeep as a class project.
"Junk" is a song by Paul McCartney written in 1968 while the Beatles were in India studying transcendental meditation. It was considered for both The White Album and Abbey Road, but was not released until McCartney's first solo album in 1970. In the song he explores themes of memory and sentimentality as they are expressed through objects and relationships. This dual nature of things that are discarded, but not completely lost is part of the world of art as well. Artists who salvage and re-use materials to express or fulfill a creative purpose participate in this dialogue with the past to enrich the present. (click below to play song)