In this short film, Lennart Anderson (August 22, 1928 – October 15, 2015) works on a portrait of his friend and fellow artist, Kyle Staver, as he discusses his life and work. First released on Oct. 30, 2014, it was one of our first major projects at the Vision & Art Project.
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. In 2013, as a gracious and youthful 86-years-old, he still worked regularly in that studio, though macular degeneration made it seem as if he saw the world through soaped-up windows.
Among other things, he continued to paint portraits from direct observation, a long-standing interest of his—“heads,” he called them. Friends sat for him, as they had since his art school days. In subject in 2013, when we made this film, he was painting his colleague, Kyle Staver.
Day after day for dozens upon dozens of sittings, Anderson’s time with Staver went something like this: she arrived at his studio at two in the afternoon, by which time Anderson would say he’d finished “procrastinating”—listening to classical music, looking through art books, mixing his paints for the day. Staver might select a butter cookie from a tin on a nearby shelf and Anderson would say, “How can I paint you if you’re eating that?” He corrected the drape of her hair so that it wasn’t too different from the day before. Staver changed into the shirt she’d been posing in for months and placed herself under his skylight upon a well-worn stool occupied by many other subjects over the years.
Anderson started 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 bent close to his palette, examining paint piles from within a few inches. “Dammit,” he said as he placed his brush on the canvas, his eyesight forcing him to concentrate on exactly the spot he intended to place the brush. Staver stared into the distance, not moving or disrupting his focus.
Anderson approached her, peering through a magnifying glass at the folds of her eyes. “My God, it’s so beautiful,” he said. “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 ebbed and flowed, 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. His process of working on this portrait was one of the things we captured in this film.