dan john anderson

Creating a Catalyst

From his High Desert studio, Dan John Anderson explores the space between art and design through large-scale sculpture and functional woodwork.

Lisa Marie Hart Current Digital, Home & Design, Real Estate

dan john anderson

Dan John Anderson and a towering totem made of pine.

Logs of cypress, redwood, sugar pine, oak, olive, and cedar  arrive to Dan John Anderson as just that: hunks of raw nature poised to fulfill the artist’s intention. Carved wood sculptures — some strengthened with applied patchwork — emerge from his studio as stools, objects, and totems.

On two occasions, Anderson has participated in a collaborative Joshua Tree dinner party where guests found their places among his work-of-art seating. The first of these remote events took place 10 years ago when Anderson was still living in Portland, having studied at Oregon College of Art & Craft and co-founded the Von Tundra art and design collective.

That was “pre these kinds of phenoms,” he says. The experience of guests activating the space within the context of his art prompted his move to the High Desert, where he worked with fellow artists Andrea Zittel and Alma Allen before establishing his own full-time practice.

“I feel like I’m just getting started, and I hope to keep it that way,” Anderson says. “I feel good and grateful for the opportunities in front of me.”

A grouping includes a cast glass vase and vessels in fir, Claro walnut, and piñon pine.

What is the biggest focus in your life and your work right now?

I don’t see a separation between my life and my work. They are interwoven; one influences the other. I am actively exploring ways of creating more fluidity between the two, and I consider this part of my practice.

In my work, I find myself more broadly focused on vibrations and our experience of them. Things trickle down and out from there. My practice is an exploration of this primary focus, finding ways of expressing that in form, feel, and experience.

Overall, I’m focusing on getting more focused. Like a lot of people right now, a lot for me is in transition. Between raising a young family, working on our house, managing a business, maintaining a practice, making room for meaningful experiences with friends and nature, and trying to manage existential dread, I feel like I have a lot of hats in the air. I like being busy, but I look forward to having maybe a little more balance and clarity around it all. It’s all a work in progress.

Anderson holds an oak vessel.
“I’m looking develop my voice about what I see as artistic expression,” he says. “Everything stems from the same energy, whether it’s a cup that’s part of my morning ritual or a totemic sculpture that ends up in a bit more hallowed space.”

Has the patched joinery always been part of your work?

The patchwork has become more a part of my work in the last five years or so, since I got back into working more with more raw timber. As these larger chunks of wood cure and release their moisture, changes in the tension of the wood can cause it to crack and split. Some of the patches are structural and functional; they help keep the wood from opening up more. Others are more aesthetic. They might cover up one of those cracks or some other blemish in the wood.

Sculptures demonstrate range of technique in burnt cedar and painted pine.
For a little while now, I’ve been messing around with these patches on a more compositional level, making different shapes and patterns that interfere with and add to the existing surfaces. In making this work, I sometimes think about how the material has its own inherent systems and patterns, and how I am imposing a secondary system of shapes where in doing so a kind of feedback loop is generated. The patchwork is another layer in this loop that provides the means to resolve moments that feel unresolved or to punctuate them.

You had mentioned the concepts of Gesamtkunstwerk (“total artwork”) and relational art.

I genuinely find satisfaction in making things, objects, spaces, etc., but what I find more compelling is the unseen thing between these things, or, the part that is lived or activated by the experience of the thing. I’ve found some overlap with these concepts and my own interests in “total artworks” and in sometimes perceiving my work to function as a catalyst for more collective elaboration. I’d like to do more to explore these ideas along with some others in my work.

Where is your work represented?

Right now, mostly with Matter (New York City), Spartan Shop (Portland, Oregon), Commune (L.A.), Jeff Martin Joinery (Vancouver), and Landscape Products (Tokyo).

You shipped these huge, heavy artworks to Japan?

Yeah, a few times now, and with more to come. Or, go.