Anderson uses airbrush, canvas to ‘touch the world’

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Johnnie Anderson’s love of art began with the innocent childhood act of wanting to make his mom smile.

“I would make little drawings when I was small, and she would push me on. I wanted to make her happy, so I tried to do better.”

Although he would not receive any formal training as a visual artist until adulthood, Anderson continued experimenting with different mediums as a hobby for several years. After leaving the military, he went to North Carolina Central University, where he studied with Beverly McIver. He counts McIver as a great influence in his work.

“The only art class I had besides elementary school was at Beddingfield (High School) with a teacher named Ms. Wilson. I had some stuff I did in pen and ink that got into the paper, and we used to do work that was displayed at the mall.

“Most of the things I’ve learned have been through trial and error. I can’t say I’m totally self-taught, and I’ve had some influences. In the early years, I was encouraged by Beverly.”

Anderson, a proud father of five, worked for more than 20 years to support his family while encouraging his children to pursue their creative talents. Two of his children are currently in college pursuing art-related degrees. However, upon moving back to Wilson from Greenville three years ago, he decided it was time to pursue art as a full-time vocation.

“I think I was driven towards Wilson. I came home where my family was, and from there I began to paint again,” Anderson said.

He now works as an airbrush artist and oil painter, traveling around the region to display and sell his work. Anderson said that while full-time entrepreneurship is not easy, it has been a worthwhile and fulfilling effort thus far.

“I go to flea markets three or four times a week, and I have people there who engage with me as an airbrush artist. That’s pretty much how I get my income,” Anderson said. “Even though I started as an oil painter 25 or 30 years ago, I left it alone. Then about three years ago, I picked up the brush again and started to paint. The biggest challenge I face is that people think that painting is easy, and they try to devalue you. But it’s not easy. It’s a work. You have to be passionate about it, and you really have to put your heart in it.”

Anderson’s oil on canvas subjects reflect his surroundings — the people he loves and the places where he finds peace.

“I try to appeal to everybody, but I mainly paint what I’m around. I’m around African-Americans, so I paint that.

“I’m getting more into still lifes. I was at Toisnot Park, and the ducks in the water, the people feeding them — it was a serene, beautiful scene.”

Prompted by a challenge from the director of the Wayne County Arts Council last year, Anderson completed 35 to 40 of paintings. In February, his work was featured in a well-received exhibition in the council’s gallery.

“Last year I was really busy. I embraced that lonely time, but I had something driving me. I had a purpose. It was crazy, because I was used to painting about three paintings a year.”

Anderson said that painting has allowed him to become more at peace with himself.

“I think I’m getting more into what moves John. One thing that painting gives you is time to think. Once I get started on a piece, I get lost in it. It’s a spiritual experience. During that time, there’s no stress. There’s no problems. It’s just me and that painting. Whatever’s inside of John, I have to bring that out and try to touch the world.”