In this short film, you’ll see Lennart Anderson at work on a portrait of his friend and fellow artist, Kyle Staver, as he discusses his life and work.
Fifty years have passed since Lennart Anderson installed a skylight on the third floor of his Park Slope brownstone to let in the steady north light so valued by centuries of artists. Now a gracious and youthful 86 years old, he still works regularly in that studio, though macular degeneration makes the world look these days as if he’s seeing through soaped-up windows.
Many of the subjects he once painted are beyond his interest or ken, yet among other things, he continues to paint portraits from direct observation, a long-standing interest of his—“heads,” he calls them. Friends sit for him, as they have since his art school days, most recently the painter Kyle Staver.
Day after day for dozens upon dozens of sittings, Anderson’s time with Staver has gone like this: she arrives at his studio at two in the afternoon, by which time Anderson says he’s finished “procrastinating”—listening to classical music, looking through art books, mixing his paints for the day. Staver selects a butter cookie from a tin on a nearby shelf and Anderson says, “How can I paint you if you’re eating that?” then corrects the drape of her hair so that it is not too different from the day before. Staver changes into the same shirt she has been posing in for months and places herself under his skylight upon a well-worn stool occupied by countless other subjects over the years.
Anderson starts off each sitting as most painters who work from life do, by comparing his painting to the subject—in this case Staver—scanning from one to the other. He bends close to his palette, examining paint piles from within a few inches, while he considers. “Dammit,” he says as he places his brush on the canvas, his eyesight forcing him to concentrate on exactly the spot he intends to place the brush. Staver stares into the distance, not moving or disrupting his focus.
Anderson approaches her, peering intently through a magnifying glass at the folds that surround her eyes. “My God, it’s so beautiful,” he says. “I didn’t see that before. I just didn’t see that.”
By the end of his first day painting Staver, Anderson had captured the whole of her on his canvas. With each subsequent sitting, her likeness ebbs and flows, lost then found, corrected and regained by the stroke of his thumb over wet paint, or by the delicate action of a bristle brush drawn carefully over his day’s work, unifying unwanted contours and discordant tonal passages.