Love and concrete: Painter sees suburban beauty in 'Paradise Paved'

Scott Lloyd Anderson at his easel
Scott Lloyd Anderson at his easel. He prefers to paint outdoors.
Courtesy Scott Lloyd Anderson

Scott Lloyd Anderson can remember exactly when he dedicated himself to painting suburban beauty.

"I was out painting across from the Burnsville Mall, some vista out there, and some people drive by in a car, poke their head out the window and yell at me, 'Why would you want to paint that?' And -- light bulb goes off -- and I just realized I might be on to something here."

His picture from that day was of a freeway on-ramp. It now hangs on the wall of the Flanders Gallery in Minneapolis alongside dozens of other bright suburban scenes in a show of his work called "Paradise Paved." It features oils of parking lots, convenience stores, office buildings, even waterslides.

Anderson likes to set up his easel in the open air and quickly capture what he sees with his oil paint, a style known as "plein air."

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Historically, "plein air" painters sought beautiful landscapes. Anderson, however, seeks beauty elsewhere.

"59 Cents Soft Drinks"
"59 Cents Soft Drinks:" Flanders Gallery owner Doug Flanders says this picture, like Anderson's other work, captures a moment in time.
Courtesy Scott Lloyd Anderson

He sometimes likes to goose the art world. A few years back he did an entire show of paintings of the construction work at the Interstate 35W bridge.

His new paintings represent places where many people work, live and play. It's far from the hipster sensibilities of the modern art world that scare some folk.

"There's a lot of nose rings and tattoos and generally indecipherable puzzles on the wall that only make them feel like nerds since they don't understand it," he said of the typical person's experience navigating the art world. "These are paintings that I think a lot of people can understand because these are places they are familiar with."

So familiar, visitors can swear they have been to the parking lot in one painting, or passed the building in another. Anderson says they are probably wrong.

"On Ramp Burnsville"
"On Ramp Burnsville:" This is the image Scott Lloyd Anderson was painting when a passing motorist yelled at him, and launched Anderson's quest to paint suburban vistas.
Courtesy Scott Lloyd Anderson

"These scenes are ubiquitous," he said. "They really are Everywhere USA, if you go to Memphis, if you go to Kansas City, if you go to Chicago, if you go to Minneapolis."

Gallery owner Doug Flanders has a soft spot for "plein air" painting and artists who paint from life out in the field. So showing Anderson's work was a natural.

Walking through the display of Anderson's work, Flanders pointed to an image of a woman in a bright orange T-shirt walking from her car to the door of a SuperAmerica. She's almost luminous in the sundrenched spot between the gas pumps and the store.

"It's capturing a moment that will now last hundreds of years," Flanders said. "Many of the pieces look like they could have been a photograph." Anderson, he added, "waited for the right time of day, the right shadows, the right sunlight."

"Parking Lot, Early December"
"Parking Lot, Early December"
Courtesy Scott Lloyd Anderson

That's not easy when you're standing on a grass median at your easel applying oil paint.

While Anderson likes the comparison to photography in how he documents a scene, he stresses he's not a photorealist. He points out the bristle marks clearly visible in the paint.

"When you are out in the field the brushwork is a matter of course because you are in a mass panic to get this down before the light moves," he said.

Anderson sometimes thinks about his pictures in terms of interesting collections of shapes, almost like an abstract.

There's a painting of a parking lot in Maple Grove, which is on the cover of the "Paved Paradise" catalog. It shows the back ends of cars casting shadows on the concrete. Anderson set out to capture those interesting dark shapes. However, he also remembers that afternoon for the security guard who suddenly appeared to accuse Anderson of trespassing.

"You know this guy I think wanted to be on the SWAT team, or he didn't make the Navy SEALS, but I think he stood probably about six inches away from me, you know with all of his gear and his mace and everything just to make sure I got off the property. But anyway, the important thing was I got the painting."

Anderson says "plein air" painters usually have better luck asking for forgiveness than seeking permission. He says he's found a lot of beauty in the Twin Cities suburbs, and met a lot of locals who appreciate a painter in their community.

"A lot of people are sort of appreciative, as if I am some sort of ambassador, or have been hired by the chamber of commerce to come and make their neighborhood look like it's a fun, cool place to be."

And that, after all, is the answer to those people who shouted that question about why he wanted to paint in the suburbs.