Still Truckin’ After All These Years: Randall Anderson

Wisdom is figuring out later in life what we didn’t know we already knew. By this definition Montreal artist Randall Anderson has grown wise. As a young boy, his world was characterized by mobility. His family lived in trailer parks, and both his father and uncle were long-haul truck drivers. “I grew up with trucks and my passion was building hot rods. But I can’t say I knew my father well because he was away for two weeks at a time. He always wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, and apparently he liked to play poker. So he remains a mystery to me. But he would take me on trips.”

It turns out that through his art Anderson began taking himself on trips. Two summers ago he spontaneously decided he wanted to ride his bicycle from Vancouver to Montreal. He did it in 21 days, averaging 160 kilometres a day in horrendous weather. “I had a snow storm coming out of Rogers Pass, deep-freeze in southern Alberta, really hot weather going up into Winnipeg, and then in Ontario for the last two weeks it rained the whole time.” But on the Red Coat Trail he had an epiphany that connected back to his childhood. “In the middle of nowhere I went into this cafĂ© and got a sense of how slowly I was moving through this landscape, and how fast everyone else was moving. I felt like I was in a parallel universe, like there was a glass wall between these people and me. That’s when I realized how important ideas about space and movement have been to me. I think movement pretty well defines our culture.”

His most recent project, which he installed in the Toronto Sculpture Garden (and drove around downtown Toronto during the Toronto International Art Fair in late October of this year), is yet another incarnation of movement. Called Primary Prototypes, the piece is comprised of three sculptures made from plywood and polyester resin. The sculptures are hollow and finished in three primary colours–red, blue and yellow–in an auto body shop. They suggest a myriad of pop cultural and art historical references, from toys to architectural models, and from the form of Minimalist sculpture to the palette of Mondrian and De Stijl. “I’ve always had a fascination with formalism. In the early ’80s I came from Vancouver to Montreal to study with Guido Molinari. Then afterwards I went back to the West Coast to study with Ian Wallace. Lately I realized that what I’m doing is a hybrid of West Coast critical theory, Quebec formalism and the Trailer Park Boys.”

Randall Anderson’s practice is a layered combination of the conceptual and the formal. He has the need to make an object, but then he has an equally compelling need to take it on the road. He has come to recognize that his pieces feel most like themselves when they are moving. He has anthropomorphized them. “They want to get out. I can feel it. They’re actually getting a little antsy.”

He no longer sees the thinking and making dimensions of his art as contradictory. “I struggled with that all my career. I really am very much a studio-based artist. I like to be in the studio and I enjoy tumbling ideas around and making things. So when I started seeing the potential of moving what I was making, it almost satisfied those conflicting desires within me. I could see I could be both those things.”