Steve Anderson approached Zora-Bora Gallery as I stepped outside to introduce myself, his dark glasses betraying his skill and confidence. How does a person find his way, I thought, with only a cane buffering up against the sidewalk? How does someone, who for decades confronted life with full vision, adjust to a diagnosis of blindness? This is exactly what local artist Steve Anderson is facing.
He was diagnosed at age fifty and found himself overcome with self-pity. He had already lost 75 percent of his sight. To cope, he traveled to Istanbul, imprinting his favorite city on his mind. He meandered throughout Eastern Europe, struggling emotionally. Finally settling in St. Augustine where his parents lived, they encouraged him to get off the couch and do something, anything!
So he reached into his creative side. “I’ve had a good eye for concepts and color theory, and I could still see well enough to photograph.” So his photographs became the basis for his paintings, each consisting of mixed media – acrylic, air-brushing, ink. He’s taken his original photographs and manipulated the angle, giving them a three-dimensional quality. Each are photo-realistic, yet involve a neon impressionist color palette. “I hope to convey the magnificence of some of our Gilded Age architecture,” says Steve. “Not whole buildings, because when you look at a whole building, you can’t see all the detail.”
With Retinitis Pigmentosa and severe Glaucoma, he developed an acute tunnel vision, like looking through a straw. Painting gave him a renewed outlook on life, despite “knowing I would be spending the rest of my life in darkness.” Having been born into a military family, he was accustomed to moving. He admits it was challenging, “but I looked forward to the unknown. It prepared me for what I’m facing now – picking up, moving where I don’t know anyone or the language.” Costa Rica, where healthcare is more affordable, will soon be his new home.
Steve earned his BFA in Art History from the University of North Florida, studying first in Orlando. In college, he explored painting, drawing, sculpture, and ceramics, but he didn’t start thinking professionally until after his diagnosis. Instead, he started his career designing advertising for newspapers, opening a business in Chicago, where he owned a couple art galleries. He came to Jacksonville in the 2000s, becoming marketing director for the company that owned the Twisted Martini.
“My creativity isn’t going to end,” he says, “even when I’m in total darkness.” With over 250 paintings sold, he’s heading to Costa Rica with few possessions. He intends to take up writing. With today’s technology, he can talk right into his computer. “We choose to let something affect us or not, no matter what happens,” says Steve. “I don’t think about my vision when I’m creating. I’m documenting some of the most extraordinary buildings in America in a unique way. There’s nothing like it in such a small compressed spot.”
Photography by Kate Gardiner