Stephen W. Anderson


primarily paints portraits of movie actresses, both famous and forgotten. From his library of some 1,800 videocassettes of vintage movies, he freezes frames of an actress and takes photographs of images on the television screen. He uses these as models for sketching proposed portraits.Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, Anderson is graduate of West High School. Except for one year at the University of Chicago and four years in the UnitedStates Navy, he has always lived with his family in Rockford, and has never married. In addition to movie actresses, Anderson has painted portraits of some historical,imaginary, and mythological women, some men and floral pictures, completing about one thousand works ranging in size from seven by five to 36 by 28 inches.Anderson is an accomplished, self-taught portraitist who has perfected and adapted his technique for more than twenty years. Because he failed to find commercialsuccess as a writer, he turned to painting in 1982. At first he used pastel and tempera that he would mix in bottle caps and re-liquefy with his own saliva. He applied the paint on lampshade cloth with a plastic stylus in a pointillistic style, building up dots of color. He now paints using gouache and Prismacolor on museum board toachieve a sharper and more vivid image, and he likes to create a sepia effect using burnt sienna.Anderson’s portraits are precise and intense, with a mysterious remoteness. While the movie stars are identifiable, they have the stylized and generic quality of Hollywood publicity stills. The women are invariably voluptuous and romantic yet prim and detached, as though they are looking into another world. Anderson,interested in costume design, meticulously crafts the stylish and colorful gowns in his portraits. Moreover, he has designed and sewn his own clothes.The portraits with detailed backgrounds are particularly impressive. His recent painting
A Sinister Couple
features the actors Vincent Price and Barbara Steele, ahaunted castle, and the ominous touch of a lone black raven in the background-a scene that is not taken from any particular movie. Another recent painting,
Feminine Icons of the Silent Screen,
presents portraits of the actresses Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Theda Bara, and Clara Bow.With these bright and luminous subjects, Anderson creates his own genre of the Hollywood actress as temptress and icon, which he presents with a skill unusual for a self taught artist. He deftly illustrates the American fascination with the movies, and the romantic urge to identify with idealized stars.
See also
Painting, American Folk
Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak.
Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists.
New York, 1990