Capturing history

Strong winds are whipping into and across the 10th Avenue bridge, challenging the balance of people passing over. Hats are getting picked off. The ground underneath feels shaky.

It’s a loud scene: Cars are always driving by, and the whoosh of the wind is near constant.

Then there’s the construction going on a few 100 feet away, as workers are putting together the new Interstate 35W bridge at a dizzying pace.

It’s not a comfortable place, but Scott Lloyd Anderson has been here early mornings through afternoons for weeks.

He doesn’t have to be here. In fact, he says he’d prefer not to be.

But the moment called.

Plein air

Anderson is a plein air painter.

Literally meaning “in the open air,” the genre’s artists capture the world exactly as they see it: in a moment, outside, with natural colors.

According to the Plein-Air Painters of America, the style is rooted in French impressionism, whose artists painted the world as they saw it. The classic images painters such as Claude Monet produced captured colors and shapes as only the artist in the moment could. But there is a difference: Whereas much impressionistic work becomes blurry as the viewer gets closer, plein air can look almost photorealistic.

At the same time, plein air paintings aren’t photographs. Pictures don’t hide anything; plein air lets the painter focus on what he or she finds most prominent. Distractions to the eye can be entirely left out.

‘It’s brutal’

Anderson is yelling. He has to in order to be heard.

“When you’re being jostled around here for three hours, it’s brutal,” he says, left hand on his hat to keep it from blowing into the Mississippi River down below.

Anderson likens plein air painting to his younger days as a wrestler: It’s a painful process, but when you get the pin, it’s a great feeling.

“Oftentimes, I don’t like painting,” he says. “I like having painted.”

If ever one of his projects were a real pain to complete, capturing the construction of the I-35 bridge is it.

He arrives at 6:30 in the morning to capture the sun rising over the river. If he waits even an hour, his first painting of the day would be completely different.

He ties his gear down, takes out his oil paints and canvas and gets started. His first work is complete in a few hours.

Anderson loves racing to capture a moment. The sun’s angle is always changing, keeping him on his toes.

“It’s like a performance art,” he says. “It’s about speed, accuracy — all at the same time.”

This project provides an added challenge: finding access.

He says he’s been wanting to get as close to the construction workers as possible, but security has kept him back. That’s made it difficult to find unique views. Even the sight from the 10th Avenue bridge — a great view of the bridge’s gape over the river — is blocked by a chain link fence.

He says he was lucky enough to meet a college student who lives in an apartment at nearby Seven Corners, which provided a near-aerial view. He also was allowed to paint from the parking lot of the Southeast Steam Plant.

But actually getting onto the under-construction spans, to see the work completely close up — that hasn’t happened.

“I’m still working on it,” Anderson says.

Live history

By noon, dozens of people are scattered across the bridge. Many have cameras, hoping to take with them the once-in-a-lifetime view.

Anderson doesn’t feel much different. He isn’t here to necessarily pay tribute to anyone. While he feels horrible about what happened to the victims of the bridge collapse, he says his paintings can do little to ease their pain. To think otherwise, he says, would be pretentious.

“Art isn’t important,” Anderson says. “Plumbing is important.”

He’s here only to capture a moment. It just happens to be one of the biggest in Minneapolis history.

“This is a view that will never, ever be seen again,” he says, pointing toward the untarnished angle of the river, the Downtown skyline, the Stone Arch Bridge and the falls.

He laments that this soon will disappear. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is hoping to have the bridge’s main span complete by early to mid-July.

Anderson plans to keep painting as long as construction continues. The Kingfield resident wants to put on a show of his work before the crews leave, while the bridge is still considered a site of historical significance.

“Once it’s finished, it’s just going to be another road,” Anderson says. “Like before.”