Ian Michael Anderson Artist Interview: Gently Organizing Organisms

“There are ongoing themes in my art that involve the clash of technology with the natural world as well as my own human guilt for being a part of that encroachment by default.”

Portland artist Ian Michael Anderson’s latest collection of gouache paintings contrast earth tones and light pink hues with symbolic imagery, to powerful and striking visual effect.

In Anderson’s own words, his paintings aim to address chaos and conflicts in life as well as order, to help him gain insight into their distinct natures. He explains by saying, “… Dualistic narratives take shape [and] opposing forces are typically revealed: Life and death, good and evil, man and beast, predator and prey, war and peace. These dreamlike and often nightmarish fables reflect an outward and subconscious view of man and his destructive role in this world. Through this lens, my own place in these mostly impossible scenarios can be triangulated, and I am on my way to resolving the confrontation and understanding the need for such destruction.”

You can see these pieces in person on First Thursday, May 3rd, at Backspace Gallery and Cafe (115 NW 5th Ave) in Portland, and read a brief Q&A with Anderson below.


Do you storyboard your images before you create them? How long does a piece like The Thread Inside take from start to finish, contrasting with Cock And Cobra?

The ideas for my paintings usually come to me slowly and build on themselves in my mind’s eye, sometimes for years, before I begin illustrating them. For instance, the idea for Cock and Cobra came from a leaping rooster figurine at an antique shop. The form of it really intrigued me but also made me wonder what it might be leaping from. A snake seemed like the most logical and interesting conclusion. The two masculine symbols needed a reason for such conflict, and I figured that the femininely-charged roses would make a great context. This painting took about a month with many hours put into it, whereas Vulture King took several months, mostly because I periodically put it on the back burner due to uncertainty about how exactly to finish it. For me, sometimes ideas need a little time to incubate.

False Eyes [below] and The Thread Inside [first image] took about a week each and tie into other paintings in the series. I will usually do many rough sketches to compose the elements in a dynamic fashion. This can sometimes be the hardest part of the process because it is nearly impossible to find reference for something the way it appears in your head. Cock and Cobra is again a good example of this. I had to composite many different source pictures to put the rooster at the angle I wanted him while maintaining that slight realistic spark. Of course, my imagination has to fill in many of the gaps, creating that other-worldly feel which I suppose is a key element to my style.

Your work stresses organic matter a lot, be that in the form of feathers, hair, sinews, bones, etc. What is it about these elements that draw you to them, and do you, in perhaps a [David] Cronenbergian way, ever see organic stylings in non-organic materials?

I suppose there is a part of me that does not like technology very much. The constant sound of traffic and jets flying over head, buzzing power lines, and unending construction. There are ongoing themes in my art that involve the clash of technology with the natural world as well as my own human guilt for being a part of that encroachment by default. The marriage of the organic and inorganic is a way of addressing the seemingly irreversible state of the environment. We have become a part of our environment only in a way that a cancer relates to our own bodies.


This current body of work stands in stark contrast to your previous pieces. It seems like a very big leap in a positive direction, both in terms of conceptualizing your works and in terms of the actual technical skill involved. Do you think this is true, and if so, did this change of inspiration and style come from a particular place?

Yes, looking back I do find that I have made vast improvements, stylistically, and skill-wise, but I still feel like a novice in many respects. I suppose it is just experience that comes with age. When I’m not making art and just going about my day, and even in sleep, I feel I am putting puzzle pieces together and building on ideas and perceptions. I try to keep my art fairly honest and don’t have much of a pop sensibility. Through osmosis, I’m sure I absorb the shifts going on in the art world around me, but I don’t let it dictate the directions I take. Mostly I feel like I am trying to translate ideas from my subconscious into a narrative that I may decipher just as any other observer of the art might. There is not usually a predetermined symbolism going on. The art is open to the interpretations that any individual might read into it.


What’s next for you? Are there themes or styles of art that you are looking forward to exploring more?

I want to get back into oil paining and also going much bigger at some point, possibly even doing murals. Over the years I have done a fair amount of figure drawing and painting but have not brought it too extensively into my personal work. In the future I hope to incorporate the figure more often, working from models and perhaps gaining some classical sensibilities.


Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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Written by Vee Hua 華婷婷
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