If people could see properly, and see whole, they would all be painters.

— Pierre Bonnard

Since childhood, I have longed to see the way the Tonalists saw; the way the Impressionists saw; the way the Ashcan and London and Pop painters saw.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I suffer high myopia.

By painting, I’m learning how hard it is to “see like a painter;” to see “properly and whole,” as Bonnard described it.

It’s really hard.

But not to see like a painter would disappoint me—and not to see at all would be insufferable.

That last fate befell the late painter Lennart Anderson, subject of Lennart Anderson: A Retrospective, now at the New York Studio School.

Anderson suffered macular degeneration, which left him virtually and legally blind in his seventies. But blindness didn’t deter the painter one bit.

As sight failed him, Anderson began to paint “fictions,” as art critic John Yau describes the artist’s later pieces.

As a young man, Anderson had studied with the tonal painter Edwin Dickinson, a member of Charles Hawthorne’s Provincetown School.

“One could draw a line of thinking and seeing from Hawthorne  to Dickinson to Anderson,” Yau says, “a lineage that the art world seldom acknowledges.”

That thinking, as best summed up by Hawthorne, asserts that, “Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision—it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so.

Through his whole early career, Anderson strove to “see things,” to find all the beauty under the sun; and did so with noteworthy success.

But his breakthrough came in a way when he lost his sight.

That’s when his paintings became ghostly, hovering images—pictures of floating, vaporous objects.

His is a highly myopic world where, as Yau puts it, “form and dissipation meet along the edges of one another” and where “night is falling.”

As Anderson’s vision worsened, his subjects grew even more vaporous. In Still Life with Lion Head and Artichoke (below), they hardly manifest at all. We see them Pauline-style: “through a glass darkly.”

If you can’t get to Anderson’s retrospective in New York by month’s end, you can learn more about the painter here. And don’t miss this charming 2016 interview with him, where he explains why he was driven to paint.

Hat Tip: Thanks go to my teacher Milena Spasic for introducing me to Anderson’s work.

Above: Beer Cans by Robert Francis James. Oil on fiberboard. 8 x 10 inches. Still Life with Lion Head Mask and Spider Plant by Lennart Anderson. Oil on canvas. 14 x 14 inches. Lettuce #3 by Lennart Anderson. Oil on board. 11 x 13 inches.

Below: Still Life with Lion Head and Artichoke by Lennart Anderson. Oil on canvas. 16 x 20 inches.