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The art studio Barry Sanderson built in his backyard in central Casper is home to dozens of his enormous paintings that span decades of his life as an artist.

Last week he led the way there, out the back door of the home he renovated, complete with a roof inspired by boathouses on the Thames in his native London. Crosses decorate his “chapel shed” across the yard from another shed he built from the crates that carried his “children” from England.

“So this is where my children are bubbled wrapped,” he said of his paintings, as he opened the door of his art studio.

Now unwrapped from their shipping protection, about 40 of his paintings are on display for the first time at Art 321.

“Only my close friends have seen them, and my extended family,” Sanderson said.

His solo show there is on display through July. An artist’s reception will take place 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Art 321 during the Casper Art Walk.

“There’s 60 years of my journey as an artist down at Art 321,” he said.

One painting addresses the Matthew Shepard murder through crucifixion imagery.

Each of his paintings tells a story, and each is accompanied by a footnote about the artwork. He’s given many away, but he’s never sold one, he said.

“But I think I’ve come to the stage ... I feel they’re more mature now,” he said, “and they’re ready to be housed in other people’s abodes.”

Story of an artist

Sanderson’s life is in his paintings. One black and red painting titled “Date of Birth 1941,” done on ply board found on a bomb site, bears the year he was born with the footnote, “The artist being a war child.”

He was born a “war baby” in London to working class family, as he wrote in a bio. He was fortunate for many “art mothers and art fathers,” he said, including Welsh schoolteacher who recognized his talent when he was 7 years old and took him to galleries and museums. “All things ‘artful’” became his sole interest, although the self-taught artist never received any formal training, his bio states.

He left school at 15, as was common at the time, he said, and he became a printing apprentice.

“I had a mental blockage to be a creative artist and share my insights with the world,” he said in his bio.

As a young printing apprentice with little money, Sanderson began to paint in letter press inks with palette knives and palette sticks. One early painting. “Traveling from Elstree to St. Pancras (Kings Cross) for the First Time” references his time commuting in the London area during an apprenticeship.

“As a young man, you see all the bright lights, but when you become a commuter for years, you see the grey, the fog and everything else,” he said.

He found his job unfulfilling, so he started traveling, first through Europe, then in Australia and New Zealand.

Sanderson again worked in the printing trade when he returned to England. He spent years devastated after he lost the top of his right thumb in an accident with a large printing machine, he said. After perfecting his ink technique, had to learn to paint again, this time using brushes, as he had when he was very young, he said. The footnote for his painting “Hand Fixation” tells of how he could could no longer continue to use the palette knifes or palette sticks. His style changed as he used different sizes of brushes and switched to painting in acrylic, he said.

He eventually began making a living restoring old properties around the United Kingdom, including a thatched cottage dating back 400 years and a 250-year-old regency style property, Sanderson said.

The renovation allowed him to keep his “children,” according to his biography.

“He liked to say he would prostitute his labors, but never his art,” it states.

He considers his home and the others he lived in and renovated as “living sculptures,” he said. He spent 11 years renovating the Casper home he moved into in 2003, including a large extension with exterior walls in a roughly textured finish called “old English render” for a century-old look along with rocks containing fossils. He moved to Casper where his sister, brother-in-law and mother settled at the time.

Sanderson has a couple paintings in progress, although he can’t paint and renovate at the same time, he said. He doesn’t do commissions, because he has so many ideas of his own.

“I have a box in here which I call my stepping stones, and most people call sketches,” Sanderson said, “that I could remain painting in here for the next 10 years.”

Stories in art

Sanderson paid 9,000 British pounds to ship over his works from England to the U.S. during a time of steep exchange rates.

Many subjects have inspired Sanderson to paint, including people he knew or observed, political statements, history and his experiences and travels. His art is cataloged in portfolio books with a footnote for each painting.

He’s often “rooting for the underdog,” he said, like in one painting of a man lying under his coat in a park, with a footnote, “The Old Chap who found alcohol his social community.”

Sanderson spent three days with different colors of gold on the frame for his painting of Ramses II, “the mighty builder,” he said.

“Frames are very important,” Sanderson said. “Sometimes I use a frame to keep the canvas in and sometimes I use the frame so that the canvas can go on the outside of that.”

A frame only wraps halfway around a portrait of a foreman Sanderson worked with in New Zealand who had a birthmark on his face. His footnote reads, “People look to see only blemishes and birthmarks. One tried to bring both sides parallel, please look again. What is ugly and what is beauty.”

At age 21, Sanderson followed in a long art tradition and painted the persecution and crucifixion. Years later, he found himself revisiting the subject after the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay Casper native who was killed 20 years ago outside Laramie.

“Those vast Wyoming skies, still today for me, lie witness To this ‘Barbaric Act’ by human beings before the Year 2000,” Sanderson wrote in his footnote for the piece. “And, on reflections of life, have we really moved on?”

He spent six months on research and another six months to paint, collage and construct the painting framed in timber poles from a small gas and timber station near Laramie, he said. He couldn’t bring himself to take any photographs or part of the environment from a short visit to the spot where Shepard was left to die, he said in his footnotes.

“So with the main outer frame, I have tried to relate to the imagery I experienced from those few minutes I spent in the area,” he said in his footnote.

The painting includes a small portrait of Shepard above a crucifixion image.

Art 321 executive director Susie Grant said Sanderson’s show is one visitors could spend a day taking in with his distinctive style and stories in his footnotes next to each painting.

“He doesn’t paint just to paint; he paints to tell a story,” she said.

Beneath each image is truth that inspired Sanderson’s paintings.

“It’s been my life, and it’s statements I think people should see,” he said. “You know it’s not ducks in the pond, it’s beneath the truth of the canvas. And obviously it’s not for everybody.”

“And like I say, I want my children to be housed in other people’s abodes,” he added, “that they enjoy and pass them on to their children.”

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Star-Tribune reporter Elysia Conner covers arts, culture and the Casper community.

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