01 Feb Enduring Art
LEADING HIS TRIUMPHANT BAND OF WARRIORS out of a sun-drenched valley, a proud Crow chief astride his paint horse, shield in hand and lance raised above his head, embodies the strength and nobility of character that has become the hallmark of Roy Andersen’s boldly colorful Native American paintings.
Entitled Great Bird Above is Kind, it is the evocative cover image for Dream Spinner: The Art of Roy Andersen. Published by Settlers West Gallery, this richly illustrated and poetically written biography chronicles the history of an artist whose journey from illustrator to one of today’s most respected Western painters is truly the stuff of dreams.
Born December 16, 1930, the son of Danish emigrants, Andersen spent his childhood literally enjoying the “fruits of youth” on his family’s New Hampshire apple farm. The one constant in young Andersen’s life was his desire to be an Indian warrior. When the blonde, blue-eyed Dane came to the realization that this was an impossibility, drawing images of cowboys, cavalrymen and Indians on the prowl became a new path by which he could enter the magical world of the West.
Supportive of their son’s talents and aware that rural New Hampshire farm life promised little opportunity to pursue his art, his parents relocated to Chicago where the teenage Andersen quickly took advantage of art classes offered at the Chicago Art Institute and the Field Museum of Natural History. The fledgling artist haunted the Field’s compre- hensive Indian displays, filling sketchbooks with highly detailed drawings of costumes, weapons and other accoutrements. Andersen confides he still has these, and often refers
to them when researching information on a specific tribe. Determined to increase his artistic acumen, Andersen spent two years at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art, a semester at the Art Center of Los Angeles and several years with Felcamp-Mealloy, a leading Chicago Art Studio, before establishing a working space in the Jack O’Grady Studio. By age 42, the artist had cemented his reputation as one of Chicago’s leading freelance illustrators. However, he sensed that something was missing in his life. That something was Louann (Lui) Ihde, a highly talented lady in her own right whose background included studies at Syracuse University, Florence, Italy, and a degree in Interior Architecture and Design.
The couple met by chance when Lui, on a business trip to Chicago, stopped in to see the O’Grady lobby — a country store imported from Colorado. After showing her around, Andersen quickly asked if she was free for din- ner. She was not, but they connected the next evening. Andersen sighs, “Boy, was that a close call.”
Tiring of a long-distance romance, Andersen moved to New York to be with Lui, and the couple tied the knot the following December. Married for 37 years, the two continue to be soul mates and best friends. Andersen confides, “She is one of the few people I allow to critique my work. How mad I get at Lui’s insights is a reflection of just how right she is.”
Acting as Andersen’s agent, Lui traveled the circuit of publishing offices with her husband’s portfolio under her arm. Impressed by the diversity of his talents, directors commissioned Andersen to illustrate covers for paperback books, movie posters, magazines including Time and Sports Illustrated, and to design a series of stamps for the U.S. Postal Service.
Because they challenged his innate curiosity for the world around him, assignments from National Geographic — ranging from the space lab to the Anasazi and Mayan peoples, and an in-depth study of dinosaurs — were per- haps his favorite. In fact, Andersen’s dinosaur illustrations were so powerful that one became the cover for the August, 1978, issue of National Geographic, only the third time the magazine had used artwork as its cover image.
Nearing 50 and prompted by the realization that the Golden Age of Illustration was beginning to wane, Andersen allowed his boyhood dream to resurface once again. Trusting that a change of career would work out, in 1981 the couple made the move west, setting up a studio in Sedona, Arizona. Here, Andersen changed to the medium of oils, filling his canvases with images of warriors astride paint horses galloping through vast red-rock landscapes.
Their next move to the Phoenix suburb of Cave Creek was a strategic one that placed Andersen closer to the Scottsdale gallery scene. Obrien’s Art Emporium began representing his work and before long Andersen’s paint- ings were gaining the attention of prominent collectors. In 1989, the veteran artist was inducted into the prestigious Cowboy Artists of America, where his piece, We Hunt Them, won the coveted Gold Medal for Oils the following year.
During this period, the couple also began raising Paint horses. Since this breed was a favorite among many Indian tribes, Andersen also frequently used them as models for his paintings. He was especially fond of “Silver Chips,” a dapple- gray Paint turned white which he notes made a very com- manding appearance. The majority of their horses are cur- rently stabled and trained at the Live Oak Stables in Kerrville, Texas, so it seemed only natural that the couple would relo- cate once again, this time to the Texas Hill Country.
Still an illustrator at heart, Andersen begins his compositions by creating a number of small, broadly-based drawings, using pencil or ink. “My next step is to tighten these up, adding more and more detail. If I’m working on a large painting, I often do a small watercolor to get a sample of how it will look in color.”
“Employing an opaque projector from my days as an illustrator allows me to transfer the images onto canvas. From there I create an under painting using translucent red oxide or burnt sienna, just to get an idea of values. I love to draw with a brush, so that’s when I make the drawings stronger, and then I quickly lay in the colors. The final step is to come back and really ‘button things up.’”
Working from a basic palette comprised of approxi- mately 20 strong hues, Andersen explains that nearly every stroke in his paintings is a mixture of two colors with just a drop of a third. The latter is a concession to his mentor, Pat Donovan, who once told the artist that the third smidgen of color “took off the curse.”
Although highly detailed and location-accurate land- scapes enhance many of Andersen’s figures, the artist also finds great excitement in creating totally abstract settings. “You wouldn’t think so, but abstraction often takes longer to paint because you keep constantly going in and moving things around. In ways, however, they are like a playground for color, so they are a lot of fun to do.”
Galleries who carry Andersen’s work are especially excited about this bold use of color. “During the 20 years that we have represented Roy’s
work, we have watched him devel- op a very strong style,” offers Bill Rey, a partner in Claggett/ Rey Gallery in Vail, Colorado. “He makes what he is doing look so free that observing him it may appear like Roy is throwing color around and just having lots of fun with the palette knife. However, each stroke is carefully calculated to achieve the exact results he has in mind. His strong use of color has really woken up the collector base. He has such strength and conviction in what he does that his work fits perfectly into any style home, traditional or contemporary.
Major Andersen pieces are just really timeless,” says Rey. Also captivated by Andersen’s bold palette is Meredith Plesko, co-owner of InSight Gallery in Fredericksburg, Texas. “Roy uses a lot of vibrant colors in his paintings, especially reds and oranges, which are colors that evoke strong emotional responses from both men and women,”
“What is equally striking about Roy’s work is his abil-
ity to create historically accurate paintings which still have a very contemporary look. He is very passionate about the West, and when artists paint what they love and feel con- nected to, it shows through in their work,” Plesko says.
Although Andersen is best known for his evocative oils, he is still pleased to be numbered among a legendary company of fine artists including Tom Lovell, John Clymer, Robert Lougheed and Howard Terpning, who first honed their craft as New York illustrators.
Brad Richardson, co-owner of The Legacy Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Jackson,
Wyoming, endorses that sense of
pride. “Over the 18 years we have represented his work, Roy has built a solid collector base because of his excep- tional ability as a storyteller,” says Richardson. “His subject matter holds up well because he comes from a long line of illustrators who learned how to weave a strong narra- tive into their work. We represent a number of excellent painters, but the artists who come
from illustration backgrounds truly stand out because of their exceptional ability to draw as
well as paint.”
Looking back on a career that spans more than five
decades, the one certainty is that while living out his boy- hood dreams, Andersen has also created an enviable and enduring legacy.