The unexpected landscapes of Dan VanLandingham

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Artist Dan VanLandingham is an explorer and an innovator. At a relatively young age, he made a name for himself on the Island as a landscape painter whose breathtaking Vineyard scenes reflect his passion for his native home. Now, with his most recent series, Mr. VanLandingham has stretched his boundaries both in subject and in technique. And in these ways his new work reflects a willingness to experiment — stylistically as well as physically.

An exhibit of his work, currently hanging at the Mikel Hunter gallery and boutique on Winter Street in Edgartown, features both of the artist’s styles — traditional Vineyard landscapes and a series in which he uses a layering collage process to depict imagined rural/urban landscapes. For example, a pristine forest scene is dotted with a number of modular style houses.

“I combine the elements in a way that I leave them very open-ended,” says the artist. “They make their own stories. I use objects that you wouldn’t see together in the same scene. I try not to add the elements so they conflict with one another. I don’t have any hierarchy of object. If there’s a bright sunset, it’s not the only focal point,” says Mr. VanLandingham.

For this new series, Mr. VanLandingham has invented a layering process that reflects the juxtaposition of two disparate elements represented in his work. He physically, as well as artistically, inserts one thing on top of another.

“I have a technique that I use,” says the artist, “I start by painting the backgrounds. Then I pour all the colors of acrylic paint that I’m going to use onto glass and peel off different shapes.” He uses these figurative decals as focal points over the atmospheric landscape paintings. According to Mr. VanLandingham’s artist statement, “The process is analogous to the physical actions humans use when inhabiting a landscape, whether rural or urban. The application of an acrylic rock or building is comparable to a landscaper or architect altering a landscape.”

A triptych of a field fronted by a long stone wall is a good example of the detailed nature of a recent body of work. A 12-foot-long wall is meticulously built up of 400 individual acrylic stone-shaped pieces: “I categorized them all by color and cut them to fit into one another, the way a stonemason would.”

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The artist compares his new collaging technique to construction work. “I make the analogy of what a carpenter would do to a landscape, building the landscape. It’s my building process with paints,” says Mr. VanLandingham.

The paintings are fascinatingly beautiful, but they are also a statement of sorts. “They’re a combination of urban and rural scenes,” says Mr. Vanlandingham. “Most of the work is based on the physical and cultural changes that humans have made to the natural landscape, whether that means developing them or clearing them and returning them to a rural state.”

“For me it’s a little more personal,” says the artist. “There’s more of a dialogue you can have about the work. There’s more to it than depicting a pretty scene, which I love doing. I use my landscapes as studies for my more contemporary work. I jump back and forth. They’re truly separate.”

Hanging alongside the collage pieces are a number of Mr. VanLandingham’s large scenes of the Menemsha Harbor, executed in his very distinctive style.

This unique style recently won the artist a commission by his alma mater — the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Earlier this year, Mr. VanLandingham was asked to create a huge panel mural for the one of the main entrances to the school’s new Atlanta campus. To adorn a 40-foot wall, the artist created an 8-foot by 22-foot painting of the Atlanta skyline. He rented a warehouse in Vineyard Haven to work on the project. Over the course of the summer, Mr. VanLandingham created the piece on two canvas-wrapped wood panels that he constructed himself.

“I used a lot of architectural shots of the city and kind of put my Vineyard palette on it. [The style] is something similar to my Vineyard landscapes.”

The work was shipped to the college last month, and is now hanging in place, although Mr. VanLandingham won’t have a chance to visit the school until October at the earliest.

Of that project, the artist says, “It’s really challenging, but it’s fun working on a big scale. Each building is about six feet tall. It was a lot of work to do every little window. There’s also a different physical element to it.”

This is not the first large commission that Mr. VanLandingham has taken on. In the off-season he works for a number of private art consulting companies creating pieces for corporate offices. A large piece of his work can be found in the Harvard Square branch of the Cambridge Trust Bank. Examples of his landscapes also hang in the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and at the original Savannah location of SCAD, as well as at other public and corporate spaces.

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