Calvin Anderson is a Bay Area painter, printmaker, and designer. He studied at CCAC & Art Center College in the 1940s and was a commercial art director in SF for 40 years. He taught Design at SFAI in the 1960s and created graphics for the SF Ballet for 20 years. Anderson lived in Pacific Heights for 15 years and now resides in the East Bay.
Cal Anderson was born in Livermore, California in 1925. He gravitated towards art at a young age, recalling that he was a good student “but when it came to doing anything visual, that was my place. I knew it.” In high school Anderson worked part time at his father’s auto shop, helping to paint pin stripes on cars and arranging artistic window displays for the shop. His teachers in high school were very supportive of Anderson as an artist, and helped him enter a painting in the State Fair Art Contest. At 16, he received a scholarship to the Summer Session at California College of Arts and Crafts and loved it so much he returned for another year to study with Wolfgang Lederer and Alexander Nepote. He became close friends with Lederer, and when Anderson entered the US Army Engineer Corps during WWII as a map maker, Lederer sent him the watercolors with which he painted scenes of the Pacific where he was stationed. There are a handful of pieces in the Lost Art Collection from this period, including watercolors and pastels of Japan.
Anderson returned to CCAC from 1944-1946 and then enrolled at Art Center College in Los Angeles. The curriculum at Art Center was much more commercially-driven, and many of his early illustrations come from his years at Art Center. After studying advertising design for two years he was eager to enter the workplace. A child of the Depression, Anderson was practical and knew he needed to have a job, and commercial art was a way to utilize his passion to make a living. He moved to the east coast to work as the art director for the advertising firm N.W. Ayer in Philadelphia from 1948-1950. He met his future wife Elizabeth (Betty) at Ayer, and from there he went on to work as a graphic designer for CBS in New York, where he stayed until 1953 when they moved to the Bay Area.
The abstract paintings in the Lost Art Collection date from the late 1950s when Anderson and his family- wife Betty and children Eric, Sara, and Scot were living in a Joseph Eichler home in Terra Linda, San Rafael. Anderson had a studio in the garage of every home the family lived in, and it was there that he explored the one genre which had rarely had a place in advertising - abstraction. His colorful compositions from this era show an awareness of and fondness for Modern Art and particularly Abstract Expressionism. Anderson is an avid museum-goer, and his time on the East Coast broadened his horizons by exposing him to new museums and different art than he had experienced in California. His work from this period feels influenced by the New York trends at the time but in a more California palette, as he was experimenting and developing his own style of abstraction.
In 1962, Anderson was offered a teaching position at the San Francisco Art Institute (then known as the California School of Fine Arts) and he became the founding chairman of the Design Department. He had hoped to bridge the gap between commercial art and fine art and get to know the artists on staff, but that didn’t happen, although he recalled that “Elmer Bischoff and Frank Lobdell were always very accepting.” He stayed at SFAI until 1968.
Anderson worked as an advertising art director for Cunningham & Walsh, and later at Kenyon & Eckart, Johnson & Lewis, and Marshack. In the 1960s, Anderson began working on promotion graphics for the San Francisco Ballet. At the time, the Ballet was not as culturally appreciated as the SF Opera and Symphony, and their budget for graphic work was so small that Anderson’s agency soon dropped them as clients. Anderson loved the work so much that he continued on free of charge for many years. After retiring in the 1980s, Anderson formed his own agency, Cal Anderson Design, to work mainly for non-profit arts institutions. He designed hundreds of posters, programs, and advertisements for the Ballet, as well as for Theatre Flamenco, the L.J. and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation, and Humanities West. Two of his designs from the 1960s are held in the permanent collection of SFMOMA. Through the relationships he made working with the SF Ballet, Anderson also designed books, theater productions, and exhibitions from the 1960s into the 1990s.
In the 1990s, Anderson began taking printmaking classes at City College of San Francisco’s Fort Mason studio. For nearly a decade he spent several hours a week there and was extremely prolific; there are roughly one thousand prints from this time in the Lost Art Collection. He felt that printmaking was accessible with the large studio (being too messy to do at home) and enjoyed the routine and social aspects of working in Fort Mason. He never intended to show his prints and simply enjoyed creating them for his own artistic fulfillment. Anderson’s prints are mainly abstract and often monochromatic, displaying his Modernist sensibilities and a knack for exploring Expressionist compositions in his own, contemporary style.
Thanks to the Anderson family for bringing this collection to Lost Art Salon and to Cal for sharing his artwork and story with us.