Snowmen may evoke playful childhood memories or the Olaf character in “Frozen,” but for local artist Scott Lloyd Anderson they are also a serious painting subject.
Snow has been present in Anderson’s landscapes over the span of his 17-year painting career, but snow figures in particular started making an appearance only four or five years ago. “Snow people” are what he’s taken to calling them, preferring to use gender-neutral terminology. And recently, these snow people have taken center stage in Anderson’s work.
These snow people are the focus of Anderson’s application for a 2019 Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, a public program that provides funding to Minnesota-based artists. If it comes through, Anderson plans to host building parties for neighbors to contribute to the creation of his snowy subjects.
Snow is both a joy and a challenge to a plein air painter like Anderson, who works outside, from life, in real time.
It is one of Anderson’s favorite things to paint because, as he explained, it is “infinitely variable.” When the sun is out and he sets up his easel, not only does Anderson face a time crunch from passing daylight; his subject matter is literally melting.
The fact that Anderson paints his snow people in various stages of deterioration might hint at a deeper meaning. But Anderson insisted that as a painter he is “interested in craft not concept.”
“(I don’t) paint to make grandiose statements,” he said.
Instead, Anderson explained his approach to art in deceivingly simple terms. He is a representational artist; he paints what people see.
Anderson wants his artistic content to be visually legible, a way to connect with his audience without verbal explanation. And so he paints everyday scenes that people might stumble across in the neighborhood. The snow people are like found objects. Once standing they become part of the geography — even if just temporarily.
Like some of Anderson’s previous work exploring Minnesota’s suburban scenery, snow people are not the traditional content for plein air artists.
“So many artists are trying to make art that is timeless,” he said.
Anderson’s approach is precisely the opposite.
“I am documenting something,” he said. “I paint my time.”
Created primarily in the narrow geographic confines of Kingfield and the surrounding neighborhoods, Anderson’s work is relatable to the people he interacts with on a day-to-day basis. And not so coincidentally, these neighbors account for 90 percent of his patrons.
Elizabeth Foy Larson is one of them. She has known Anderson for his entire painting career and is a proud owner of several of his works, including one depicting a whole family of snow people.
As Larson explained, something about the image “provoked this really visceral, emotional response.”
The poignancy Larson saw in those snow people is not new to Anderson’s work, but she said that there is something about his snow subjects that brings these feelings to the surface. It’s a “nostalgic painting that isn’t sappy or syrupy,” she said.
Even though Anderson repeatedly rejected any sort of ideological intent in his work, it is hard to believe that his artistic philosophy is so clear-cut. Snow people are an emotional, even troubling subject. Once put into the world, they are in what Anderson called “an immediate state of decay.”
Building snow people may be an activity associated with kids, but “very few of these figures look like children,” said Anderson.
“Maybe I’m projecting,” he continued, “but they look like old people, and as they melt they only look more fragile.”
But if darker themes of aging, transience and even death can be read into Anderson’s paintings, so can a sense of joy. Snow people might melt, but as Anderson said, they also “manifest our time having fun and creating.”
Anderson can see this creative process as he paints, ascribing personalities and narratives to the different snow people he documents and the humans that brought them to life. To Anderson, these narratives are not artistic embellishments.
“It’s manifest in what [the builders] did,” he said.
And so even as a representational painter, there are interpretations beyond the snow-covered surface that Anderson incorporates into his artistic practice. As he conceded, “I am not a social activist artist, but there are many little comments here on the climate, on aging, on childhood and play.”
Still, Anderson is mostly excited to continue honing his craft, painting snow people for as long as his neighbors continue to build them. He looks forward to creating enough material to put on a whole show dedicated to the subject, but he said that’s at least a year-and-a-half away.
Until then, there are other ways to engage with Anderson’s work.
If the Artist Initiative Grant comes through, Anderson plans to organize public snow builds at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. Anyone interested in staying up-to-date on the snow builds or getting more information about Anderson’s work in general can visit his website at ScottLloydAnderson.com.