Anderson overcomes physical problems to create art

When he was 10, he was diagnosed with progressive myoclonic epilepsy, a rare epilepsy syndrome.

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Alex Anderson finished 'Our Nation's Bursting Colors” just before Veterans Day. The painting is eight-foot by four-foot and the paint is an inch thick.

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Alex Alexander looks at some of his artwork. Above, A self-portrait is among his many paintings.

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A self-portrait of Alex Alexander is among his many paintings.

WALLA WALLA - Alex Anderson's most recent painting took a gallon of blue paint, more than a half-gallon of red, and a half-gallon of white acrylic paint.

"I try not to think about what I'm doing, at least with abstract pictures," Anderson said. "The more I think about it, the less I like it."

The copious amount of paint adds depth to the painting, a swirl of red, white and blue explosions. The piece, titled "Our Nation's Bursting Colors," was finished three weeks ago just before Veteran's Day.

Anderson called the painting the "big one" - eight-foot by four-foot and an inch deep in paint.

Childhood friend John Nibler helped with the big one, Anderson said. The two attend art classes together at Walla Walla Community College, where Anderson has taken drawing and painting classes, and plans to take graphic design next quarter.

"I really like the one (drawing) of his grandfather," Nibler remarked. Anderson's grandfather, Don Anderson, passed away from Parkinson's disease about six years ago.

About two years ago, he began working on a charcoal erase portrait of his grandfather. He started with a dark surface, created by covering a white paper with charcoal. Using an eraser, Anderson coaxed an image of his grandfather by erasing the charcoal to create light and leaving the charcoal to make shadows. He added gold leaf to the teeth to suggest the fillings his grandfather had.

Anderson replicated a photo of his grandfather taken 18 years ago on his 160-acre property of forest and wheat fields just outside of Spokane, where Anderson frequently visited growing up.

"He was my biggest role model. He taught me how to fish," Anderson said.

Anderson entered the piece, titled "My Grandfather's Golden Grin," in the community college's juried student art show in spring 2009. The judges, artists Jeanne McMenemy and Wayne Chabre, awarded his piece with a merit award, and later purchased the piece.

"My grandmother recognized it immediately," the 23-year-old said. "Once she came to the art show, she immediately recognized it. She got teary-eyed."

This wasn't Anderson's first award.

"Every time I've entered a show, I've won an award," Anderson said quietly, when asked about the recognition he's received.

Anderson's art instructor Lisa Rasmussen said, "Alex really has something special. It's not a fluke that he was accepted and awarded (at the student art show) twice."

"I didn't think I could draw at all," confessed Anderson. "I thought I was going to be really bad with my shaking."

When Anderson was 10, he was diagnosed with progressive myoclonic epilepsy, a rare epilepsy syndrome. Myoclonic epilepsy is characterized by involuntary muscle jerks that can affect motor skills.

Anderson started taking art classes at Walla Walla High School with John Butenhoff, who was a big confidence booster, Anderson said.

After graduating, Anderson approached Rasmussen about continuing art classes, but said his shaky hands might affect his ability to take the class.

"I told him it would make his drawings more intense," Rasmussen said. "He fit in right away. The highlight of my year was when he was there in my class."

"My classmates have been great," Anderson said with a warm laugh. "I can't draw a straight line. If I need a straight line, or a perfect circle, they'll help me out with that."

"He looks at other people's work and gives them ideas," Rasmussen added. "His enthusiasm is infectious. He's really an integral part of things here."

In addition to taking art classes, Anderson volunteers at Wheatland Village, a retirement community, where he teaches an art class to interested residents.

Prior to that, Anderson earned an education paraprofessional certificate from the community college and was volunteering at Sharpstein Elementary and Prospect Point Elementary.

Katrina Barlow can be reached at katrinabarlow@wwub.com.

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