Perfidy of Perfection
Eric Landes Peels Back the Plastic to Explore What Lies Beneath
By Rachel Galvin
Parallel paneling stacked seamlessly beneath a peaked roof. Cookie cutter creations exemplifying the epitome of domesticity. Near these homes, an anomaly sits – a rounded gum drop bush, an RV hidden by drapery, a huge tent... The dichotomy between the “normalcy” of the beige and gray domiciles and the odd additions in the landscape suggest that everything is not what it seems in these neighborhoods. The question of what lies beneath is the catalyst that prompts artist Eric Landes' late night photography excursions.
“Somebody said [my artwork] is very David Lynch. I agree with that,” said Landes. “The scenes are the epitome of normalcy and, yet, if you walk around at night, it betrays that in little ways. It might be because of the artificiality; the dramatic nature makes it theatrical. I see things I respond to, like the gumdrop bush, which is so peculiar. On the other side of the building was a full-size dancing Snoopy painting.”
| “I lived in apartments. That might be it, my fascination in different domestic spaces … a sense of being different and outside...”|
This series of photographs, called Burning Furiously Beautiful (after a Jack Kerouac quote), was taken in Indiana and Missouri two of the seven states he has lived in throughout his life. After this series, he went on to create Suburban Anxiety, which took the concept a step further, incorporating similar imagery with the written word specifically notes and lists he found in his travels. Words, which do not necessarily correspond with the photos, are incorporated on top of the images, their bizarre content adding a whole new meaning to the piece.
One list mentions disjointed phrases and words like morphine... claustrophobic... truck stolen... air show … Walmart... codices to unveil the not-so-perfect lives of those who mask themselves in conformity. He said the poetic lists and textual bits became like a metaphor for the inner monologue that suburbanites must play in their heads.
To add to the fakeness of the perfectly molded landscapes, he took the photos with a “toy camera” to symbolize the seeming plasticity of this imperfect world a plastic lens and a plastic camera. While taking the photos, he realized how predicated the concept was on “artificial support and violent support, how these people can live this way [in the suburbs] because others can't.” He began thinking about what lies beneath and the “hidden agenda of power in built landscapes.”
“Art has to tell a particular story. Viewers have to find themselves in the story in order for it to be relevant. Sometimes, I just look at colors and shapes, but these are rooted in observation of how people live,” he said.
From an early age, he was an observer of other people's lives. Always feeling the outsider, he never lived in one of those cookie cutter houses as a child.
“I lived in apartments,” he said. “That might be it, my fascination in different domestic spaces … a sense of being different and outside...”
He started photography at the age of 13, although he considers himself less of a photographer and more of a storyteller.
“My relationship to photography is casual only. I am interested in it as much as it can help me say certain things. I am not as technically proficient. I arrive at an idea and figure out the best way to produce,” he explained.
He was able to use Photoshop to place text over his images. But his newest artwork focuses only on text alone. At Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, he has created the word “Like” with acrylics on a 36-inch x 165-inch cut out board, a nod to the modern day staccato dialogues that take place on a daily basis on the world wide web.
He likes to explore “the way public discourse has been reduced, the way people espouse opinions, with no moderation, all polemical.”
He said, “Things like 'Like' are the epitome – [transforming] critical dialogue to blocks of type... It is so reductive, even in a positive way. There is no sense of why something is liked or disliked. It gets at the idea of how we interact on the Internet. I am thinking about exploring more negative comments, like Libtard or asshole with dollar signs. They are classic with no discussion, not discursive, these combative statements … or I may stick with more succinct statements like 'Like.'”
He feels he is as much a painter as he is a technical photographer. Yet, the idea of painting attracts him.
“I am caught between the technical inability and the drive to paint. I am looking at sign painting Sister Corita silkscreen posters; it fits in with pop art sensibility. I accept my limitations though; I am willing to learn things,” said Landes.
| "I enjoy the combination of text and image, the politicization of art, the idea of hiding in plain sight."|
He may do ridiculous e-mails next, like one he saw, saying, “Free access to local sluts.” He likes the absurdity of seeing a phrase such as this hand-crafted and posted big on the wall. Although he finds the minimization of language to be almost ludicrous, he also relishes its simplicity.
“Some people want to be obscure; I enjoy the deliberateness of communication. It is no less valuable because it's accessible. Maybe it is also rooted in [my Midwest background], the will to communicate directly,” he said.
He explored a wide range of artistic techniques when studying at the Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design in the actively artistic period of the 1980s in Los Angeles.
“I cast bronze, painted, did ceramics, a number of disciplines ... even video. My exposure was broad. There was a lot going on. It was a real privilege to be there. I took conceptual art, the thoughtful side of art, but had to divorce myself from it a little bit. I do better intuitively, than cerebrally,” he said.
He took seven years before he went on to graduate from the University of Indiana and got into the graphic design program. Although he let his work go fallow during that time, he still followed the work of many artists, including Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer and Hans Haacke.
“I enjoy the combination of text and image, the politicization of art, the idea of hiding in plain sight. This is why I teach graphic design, too [currently at Florida Atlantic University in Davie]. I teach web design, typography, occasionally graduate seminars for students interested in fine arts. I started teaching in grad school. There is something about showing people this world that is very satisfying,” he said, adding. “I also do portfolio websites for artists. I understand the needs of an artist. ”
His interest in art is a family trait. His mother studied art in college as well and went into interior design. She has continued to take classes in painting.
“I have always been in an environment where I was encouraged. Going into the art world was never questioned. I am extremely lucky to be without the normal resistance [most artists experience]. But it is extremely hard to make a living in it,” said Landes.
This is where his $15,000 prize as a 2012 recipient of the South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellowship for Visual and Media Artists helped.
He said of the award, “I applied for it a year before. After six months, I thought I hadn't won it, but I was surprised when I got a call. The woman said, 'Of course, you have won.' I had no idea. We're lucky to have that kind of support. It is significant. I used it to buy a new camera. It helps me to fund projects and to send more work off to different shows and galleries. I have sold several of my pieces. Being able to pursue other ideas as artists always has a drawback. It is expensive. The ability to produce is limited. An artist might love to build a fiberglass Mickey Mouse 25 feet tall, but has no way to do it on their own. This is a great award.”
When not conducting research, teaching full-time or creating artwork, Landes is driving back and forth to his other home in Gainesville, where his fiance lives with “a couple dogs and five cats.”
His newest artistic obsession is taking night photos of convenience stores. He wonders what message the language of the billboards and neon signs reveal.
About the South Florida Cultural Consortium
The South Florida Cultural Consortium, formed in 1985, operates under an inter-local government agreement to coordinate projects and share resources for the growth of South Florida cultural activities, organizations and artists. It provides regional cultural planning, new project development, statewide cultural marketing, information sharing, regional arts education training and support for ethnic and rural audience development.