“Some poetry, some prose, some mischief, some nonsense…” is how artist William Landau describes the breadth of his work. A painter, a woodworker, and a poet, Landau has been creating a visual language through his creations since the 1980s. Upon viewing his work, it is clear that Landau is solely happy to amuse himself, and if a viewer is amused too, so much the better.
I met William Landau at his recent exhibition in Callicoon, NY. Landau has a cloudy, white spiral of hair, nearly shoulder length with a manicured goatee and black thick-rimmed glasses. When he strolls in, all heads turn to greet him. The man’s got an affable aura. William Landau leads me to a room holding an exhibit of dozens of his paintings and woodwork.
His paintings have a pop art aesthetic of bold colors, vivid imagery and commonly possess an ilk of social commentary. “I’m Really Diggin’ Iggy,” reads one piece on a slab of repurposed wood painted turquoise sheen. “Is that like Iggy Pop?” I ask Landau, referring to the 60s-70s era punk music icon. “Or Iggy Azalea,” he answers with a boyish grin, referencing the fancy 20-something, bombshell of hip- hop.
Landau’s larger-than-life representations are commonly juxtaposed with his own playful, yet prodding messages. One painting states “Art How Great Thou Art,” painted in a vertical row, shrugging off the conventions of sentence structure while taking a dig at fine art. A red oil piece reads “A tisket, a tusket, Put Away Your Musket,” reflects today’s fevered call for gun control and draws similarities to the likes of Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, artists who have gone against the grain through the mediums of words and textures to state unapologetic messages that immediately resonate with the viewer.
As we meander through the exhibition, Landau’s animated stories move fluidly from one piece to the next. He pauses when I interject questions about his past and his influences. “My past in the Catskills,” he explains, looking off as though running through a visual catalogue of memories, “I keep it with me always.”
A single room of the exhibition holds paintings with lyrics and references to popular culture. Although Landau often repurposes lyrics and verbiage attributed to others, his paintings also incorporate his original poetry:
And I fell out of bed
hurting my head
from things that I said
and dreams of the grim and the dead.
From all this,
you must be wisely,
aptly prepared for REAPERcussions.
Landau looks forward to continuing to create in various mediums, with nature lending itself as a primary source of inspiration. Borrowed from the land, materials from the world around him form the structure of Landau’s work as well. Scraps from the metal roof of a barn are pieced together and block lettered with phrases. His amusing worldviews are ubiquitous throughout his work, but there’s also a palpable connection with the artist’s surroundings. “My art evokes the quiet, yet real passion of living in the company of beautiful scenes in nature,” he says. When asked about his artistic trajectory, Landau adds, “No path is the same. As humans, we must continue to explore, discover and invent.”
Photography by Michael Mundy