Whitehot Magazine

Volcanic Rock & The Visual Language of Bob Landström

Bob Landström, 5075 kHz, 48 x 48. Courtesy of the artist

By NOAH SONNENBURG, December 2020 

Artist Bob Landström isn’t interested in meaning. When his work is displayed on gallery walls, he’s curious when people approach them with great intent, looking for something to decipher.

“They try to read the paintings,” Landström says with a chuckle. “They see these portions of words, phrases or mathematical formulas. They sit there and try to piece it together like they're going to discover something specific that's never in the painting.”

Replete with a sporadic array of words, glyphs, signs and the occasional sardonic animal subject, the Atlanta-based artist’s work is understandably engaging and equally puzzling. At first glance, they demand investigation, only to offer no concrete solutions

Take, for instance, Spicy Melodrama, a 36”x48” piece of Landström’s. In the upper, right-hand quadrant of the image, a kingfisher peers over its left shoulder, perched on a small fragment of a circuit diagram. Fashioned like a cybernetic Ohara Koson print, this small vignette of the piece lays on top of a warm orange glow,slowly dissipating over the expanse of the canvas. 

As the eye travels to the further reaches of this luminescence, glyphs and phonemes make themselves appear in shades of gray and black. Finally, reaching the bottom left of the image, a circle appears, dripping with green ooze, giving off a carnal aura. A wound or a portal to somewhere beyond our world?

To those unfamiliar with Landström’s approach, a painting may seem layered with exhaustively considered symbolism. Maybe the kingfisher is a cyber-philosophical statement. Does Bob want me to consider anarcho-primitivism? To Landström, however, that’s absurd. In his view, his work is a quick glimpse into his mind on a given day.

“With everything that I paint,” Landström notes. “Each painting is kind of like a snapshot, a moment in time of what I was thinking about or hearing or saying at that moment.” 

Regarding the symbolism of the glyphs and lettering of his work, Landström develops each with a distinct philosophy. It’s all about universality and shared perception.

“I've got this working theory that any symbol has the same meaning to us, regardless of our culture, our sex, our religion, or nationality, or even the period of time when we lived,” Landström says. “If I make a plus sign, it's going to trigger the same neurons in whoever looks at it. In that sense, I'm using these things not really to write a script, but more for the graphical qualities of that symbol.”

Interestingly enough however, the shapes in Landström’s work aren’t the start and end of his oeuvre’s mercurial imagery. Viewers will immediately see that each image has an overwhelming graininess to it—almost three dimensional in its texture. Some may say it even appears sandy. Those viewers would be correct.

Landström paints with volcanic rock.

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Bob Landström, Detail from 13363 kHz, 72 x 48. Courtesy of the artist

When Landström was a young artist, he jumped between media. In different phases he would settle into the use of one medium or another, viewing it as an absolute of artistic philosophy—an aesthetic positivist’s perspective of sorts. 

“There was a long period of time where I was trying to identify whether I was a ‘drawer’ or a ‘painter’ or a ‘sculptor,’” Landström recalls. “I had this personal philosophy at the time that everything is drawing, whether it's in any, any kind of medium. Then I thought, ‘Well, no. Everything is painting.’ But in terms of the medium I was actually working in, it kind of ebbed and flowed.”

For a while it was painting, then it was drawing and then it was steel sculpture. Landström truly hit his material stride after a period spent researching metaphysics and ancient spirituality. After immersing himself in that world, he began thinking that an artist’s medium shouldn’t be an absolute. Rather, it should closely align with the subject matter at hand; some things demand being painted and others should be drawn and so on. 

Delving deeper into this ideological exploration, and after having traveled to the American Southwest to study petroglyphs, Landström recognized his connection to Earth both in a spiritual sense and for his fascination with its “alchemical properties” as he puts it. With this connection motivating, he began to explore how he could affix crushed volcanic rock to a flat surface.

“I just started trying it,” Landström explains. “For a long time, I was taking rock in different degrees of granularity and just mixing it with paint,using oil paint as the binder for it. It would go on the canvas as wet, sticky gravel.” 

As Landström continued to explore his newfound medium, he did away with the notion of using pre-pigmented oil paints to simply bind the rock. He developed a way to have the rock accept raw pigment and later bind it together with an acrylic polymer emulsion.  

“It still goes on as a sticky gravel,” Landström says. “But there's no blending of colors because there’s no liquid paint in the emulsion. So it goes on like that but I can't use a brush for that sort of thing. So it goes on with trowels and spatulas and nails and sticks.”

Bob Landström, She Gently Blew Up, 48 x 48. Courtesy of the artist

Years on, Landström has continued to practice his innovative techniques. As someone motivated by and obsessed with visual language, every waking hour is filled with art and the perfection of his method—sometimes at great personal cost. 

“Art is the reason I get up and it's running through my head the entire day,” Landström says. “There's a high price to pay for being that kind of an individual. I've lost relationships over art, you know, I'm sure I've lost friends over art, because it consumes so much of your emotional energy. Art is a beast that demands to be fed. It's my beast and I live to feed it.”

Today, Landström’s large body of work has been collected and displayed internationally as his mesmerizing creations capture the imaginations of buyers and patrons in galleries worldwide. And with a recent reinvigoration of his artistic sensibilities, Landström sees a bright future ahead.

“I'm optimistic because, for quite a long time, I had just occasional or minimal interest in my work,” Landström says. “But over the past few years, that's completely turned around. I want to step on the gas pedal. What I'm really hoping is that my audience grows and I can have conversations like we're having today and make the most honest work I can create.”

Bob Landström will have work featured at The Sagamore Hotel for Miami Art Week this December. 

For more, please visit his website: https://artofboblandstrom.com/. WM


Noah Sonnenburg

Noah Sonnenburg is a freelance writer based in Pasadena, CA. His work covers automobiles, film, fine art and entertainment.

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