The more time award-winning Minneapolis artist Scott Lloyd Anderson spends at the I-35W bridge construction site, the harder it is to stay away.

His frantic painting pace mirrors the urgency to rebuild.

"There's no shortage of ideas here," Anderson said between brush strokes along the 10th Avenue Bridge on Thursday. "This is a spectacular visual."

In three weeks, Anderson has created 18 oil paintings of the estimated $400 million bridge replacement project from various angles. In early August, in conjunction with the first anniversary of the Aug. 1 bridge collapse that killed 13 people and injured another 100, his works will go on display at the Thrivent Financial building downtown.

"I'm no art expert, but what I saw looked fantastic," said Mary Ryan, 70, of St. Paul, watching Anderson and the construction workers Thursday with her husband, John, 70, for the third time in two weeks.

"I try to give a sense of height and space," said Anderson, 49, a married father of two kids who also spent more than 20 years as a magazine designer. "I also try for color."

That usually depends on the light. Anderson often arrives at the construction site before sunrise and stays well past dark.

He first considered painting the bridge site in the days just after the collapse.

"But I'd felt like I'd be exploiting the tragedy," Anderson said. "What I'm trying to do now is celebrate the construction."

In addition to painting from adjacent bridges, Anderson has worked from a condominium balcony and in a closed-off area by the water and brush as he watched welders casting sections of the new bridge.

Anderson recently recalled a great sunset, with a storm brewing not far behind.

"Saw it coming right at me," Anderson said. "I gutted it out."

His canvas got soaked. His palette fell and paint smeared on the sidewalk. Undaunted, he returned the next day.

His goal is to finish at least one painting in a day.

"It allows a certain urgency to get the gist of the scene," Anderson said. "You don't have time to putz around. You have to capture the heart of the moment as it happens."

Anderson would love to return today, but he'll be on a flight to Colorado to attend the Telluride Plein Air Painting Festival next week. His open-air painting of a series of Tibetan peace flags ripping in the wind on mountaintops won the top prize last year.

"I have a title to defend," he said. "But I'll be back."

Terry Collins • 612-673-1790