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Art People: Duncan Anderson's not from around here

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Multimedia artist Duncan R. Anderson wears a cowboy hat, calls his friends "boss," and addresses women as either Miss or Missus. He grew up and went to college in Johnson City, an Appalachian town in eastern Tennessee that he says resembles "Evanston with a great deal of Twin Peaks mixed in." Even the punk kids went to church, he claims, and much of the population honestly believed "that Satan put dinosaur bones in the ground just to confuse us." His mother was very religious ("but not a kook"), and though as a nurse she took care of patients regardless of class, she frequently reminded Anderson that she was descended from Confederate aristocracy. After she died eight years ago, his father encouraged him to move to Chicago and continue making his art. Several of his collages parody Civil War soldiers gearing up for defeat, and one self-portrait depicts him with his mother's lips.

Another piece, titled Takin' the Bullet for Dad on Saipan--"Dad! Look out! Uhnnn!" I Am a Good Son, features a cutout image of Spider-Man being shot by a line of newsprint soldiers--a reference to his guilt over being sort of a screw-up. By the time his father was his age, he says, he'd already commanded a platoon of marines during World War II. "He was leading all these guys to certain death, and I'm going through the couch looking for change to buy a six-pack of Busch so I can go back to the studio and paint this boot yellow and nail it to the wall," he says. But his father once told him he'd fought so "fellows like you could make paintings and write symphonies and make beautiful things," and he won't allow his son to move back home even though he's currently recovering from a heart attack and stroke.

When not working his day job as building operations manager for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Anderson creates multimedia pieces that rely heavily on the junk he compulsively collects--plastic figurines, scraps of wood and metal, a fake fireplace. For a 2001 group show at the now defunct Arena Gallery, his installations included a mischievous looking taxidermied fox posed as though scattering a stack of white paper, and shelves bearing animal figurines positioned in anthropomorphic tableaux: a woolly mammoth stared at himself in a mirror; a penguin bumped his bill against a miniature rolltop desk; a tarantula on a throne was surrounded by admiring astronauts. He says he's a total pack rat. "I either keep the phone on or I buy 6,000 plastic ants," he says. "It's a mad-scientist ability to be utterly irrational."

In early 2001, Anderson and his two roommates opened a gallery called Trauma Space in their Ukrainian Village apartment. They lofted their beds and lived, he says, "like 60s astronauts in little pods," clearing everything else "kit and caboodle out of the place." Anderson estimates a few hundred people came to every opening, but that success eventually led to the gallery's demise. A year and a half ago the city started to fine them for running a business out of their residence--and for not having any fire extinguishers or wheelchair-accessible entrances. Soon the landlady was dragged into it, and in the summer of 2002 Trauma Space shut its doors.

One of the gallery's early shows featured photographer Jason Lazarus, who graduated from DePaul in 1998 with a degree in marketing. By 2000 Lazarus was bored with the nine-to-five grind and started taking pictures. Now almost done with an MFA in photography at Columbia College, Lazarus and a friend, Nathan Anderson (no relation to Duncan), are opening Jesus Chrysler Gallery in the Pilsen apartment they share. The first show will feature Duncan R. Anderson's work exclusively, because group shows "don't really require too much from one artist," says Nathan. "It doesn't really express the whole layout of work. It's not a holistic approach to all their talents and what they have to offer." Plus, says Lazarus, "us being new to this whole thing takes the pressure off trying to be curators and having to come up with some heady perspective for a show. We'll just build the world's best megaphone for Duncan to yell through."

Anderson's show of drawings and multimedia installations, "The Young Andrew Jackson Concealing a Vampire Bite," opens Friday, January 10, with a free reception from 6 to 10 at Jesus Chrysler Gallery, 722 W. 18th, #2. The gallery's open from 12 to 5 on Saturdays, or by appointment; for more information call 312-738-1413 or see www.jesuschryslergallery.com.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.

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