Seth Anderson: The art of survival

Portrait 2011 — Volume 2: Hot Right Now

Seth Anderson with some of his paintings.

Seth Anderson working on one of his paintings in his GJ home.

“Is that a Ben Potter?” Seth Anderson quizzes the coffee shop owner, leaning in to the landscape photograph. The feverishly colored hoodoo rock formations pop out against a cerulean-blue sky, framed by wispy clouds — a scene straight out of somewhere in the Utah desert.

Yes, the photo above the coffee bar at Roasted Espresso and Subs, 502 Colorado Ave., is indeed Potter’s handiwork, the owner says.

But Anderson’s next question is even more telling about his personality.

“Been there?” he asks. The owner shakes his head no, adding that he couldn’t name the place where the photo was taken.

That’s not unusual. Most people couldn’t.

But Anderson can. The Doll House section in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park is one of the most remote places in the rugged park. Twice, while rafting the Colorado River, Anderson has gazed up at the rock outcropping.

It’s not just that Anderson, 36, lingers when he comes across photos or paintings of some of nature’s most-striking landscapes, it’s that he can nearly always name the summit and identify that roaring creek, the obscure craggy rock wall or the panoramic vista he’s looking at. And, more times than not, he’s tucked away some personal tidbit from being there.

“I seek the scenery and understanding of the lay of the land,” he said. “To know what each mountain is called and what hides behind it, what road goes where, and what trickle flows to what town or toward what ocean, and hope it reaches it.”

It’s more than a little unfair that although Anderson who has scaled some of the world’s dizzying peaks, he was involved in an accident in his backyard that nearly claimed his life.

While skiing on St. Patrick’s Day last year on Grand Mesa with his friend, Ann Driggers, Anderson’s skis triggered an avalanche. Heavy snow catapulted him 500 feet down, trapping him in a freefall in which he broke seven major bones in his legs.

During this year’s ensuing recovery, Anderson’s acrylic paintings with bold colors depicting scenes of the Grand Valley have been showing up in art shows around town. If not for the accident that forced him to slow down, Anderson guesses he wouldn’t have delved into art.

“I’ve been meaning to do this, to make a spectacle of our valley,” he laughed.

As a child growing up in Clifton, Anderson said he used to make mental notes of the way light reflected off the valley’s walls. Even after traveling halfway around the world, sights in the Grand Valley and nearby deserts take his breath away, incomparable to any number of farflung locations.

But the boost Anderson needed in order to paint came from Driggers. She encouraged him to paint and then purchased some of his work.

“She saved my life on the mesa and she saved it again,” Anderson said.

Anderson, 36, said his main motivation to stay alive in the mass of swirling snow was the thought of his wife, Randi, and their son, Asa, 2. These days walking comes easier, but there are limits to his endurance.
Anderson, and his brother, Dirk Anderson, founded LOKI, a sports apparel company in Grand Junction.

It was during the brothers’ first trip to Europe in 2000 that the abundance of art they saw made an impression on Seth, Dirk said.

“The van Goghs and Gauguins spurred his first interest to paint,” Dirk Anderson said.

Indeed, Seth Anderson’s paintings depict a bit of Van Gogh’s vivid colors and the sort of experimenting seen in Gauguin’s work.

Anderson typically paints scenes of the Grand Valley’s peaks, valleys and rivers, or one artwork may be a compilation of several beloved places combined into one scene. He’s known to insert some symbolic messages into the scenes, such as the Thunderbird, a mythical, larger-than-life creature the Ute Indians used to describe the legend of the Grand Mesa. In one painting, Anderson mixed acrylic with alabaster — the kind of rock the painting depicts—to paint the scene.

“Anderson’s art is a welcomed breath of fresh air. His style is innovative, and refreshing,” said Chantile Pearmain, an artist who works at the Frame Depot, 529 Bogart Lane. “As an artist, that is the one thing we all strive for. He puts a new twist on our Grand Valley mountains that help us to see it in a new perspective.”

Some of Anderson’s work will be displayed at the Frame Depot in May.

Anderson said he is most thankful to be alive, even if that meant he were paralyzed “and I just had to paint with my teeth.”

“This has been on the backburner,” he said of painting, though he admits he’s had no formal training. “It’s always something that I’ve done, just not on this level. I don’t know anything. I just do my own thing.”


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