If I had to choose two personal favorites among American artists, I would choose Walter Inglis Anderson and George Gershwin. I discovered Anderson on my own in the 1970s during the dedication of a National Park Service (NPS) visitor center in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The award-winning center featured architectural elements incorporating his motifs as well as interior displays of his nature paintings. Its copper roof and gray-washed exterior blended superbly with the adjacent salt marsh and made the center one of the most beautiful in the NPS. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In regard to George Gershwin, I had an ear for him very early in life as my mom and dad enjoyed listening to his work on the radio, records, and television.
Today, September 29, marks the birthday of Anderson and Gershwin. Both were filled with creative genius. Both lives featured tragic loss. Anderson died (1965) in his early sixties recognized as a local artist and obscure introvert wracked by schizophrenia. National appreciation of his contribution to American art would come slowly and long after his death. Even today he's not well known among general populations beyond the South. On the other hand, Gershwin who was known through out the world would die of a brain tumor at the age of 38 at the height of his career.
|Walter "Bob" Anderson, Self-Portrait, 1941|
|Frogs,Bugs, Flowers Walter Anderson, ca.1945|
George Gershwin was born in New York in 1898. He went on to become perhaps the most beloved American composer of the last century through his many compositions for the musical stage, the concert hall, and what has become known as the Great American Songbook. Gershwin's appeal comes in part from his colorful and lively incorporation of jazz and blues motifs in all his music. He died in 1937 with what could only be called a spectacular career ahead of him. I often imagine what he could have brought to American music had he lived another forty years.
|Gershwin in 1937|
Here are two examples of Gershwin's musical genius, the first we all recognize, the second not so much.
Studying these artists came much later in my life. In the last five years, that study led to a startling revelation: George, Walter and I were born on September 29. It's a coincidence from somewhere in the stars beyond time. I don't want to attempt an explanation. And there's no delusion here, my friends, I will never approach their genius. Not sure I'd want to. I'll simply leave it at that and enjoy their greatness knowing that we share a quiet and inconsequential commonality.