To paint the scenes of a city is to record life. For painter Beryl Landau, symbolism, landscape, and realism merge to present a portrait of San Francisco from a birds-eye view on the urban landscape.
Landau’s paintings depict geographical places, but are intended to evoke inner emotion and a particular state of mind. Her approach may often read as abstract, yet each landscape draws the viewer into a particular and familiar space and mood. Utilizing a palette of color that ranges from high contrast to subtle gradation, her subjects vary from local California scenes to more exotic locations from her travels. Her most recent work focuses on urban imagery, San Francisco most specifically, alternately presented in close-up or from a more distant, broader viewpoint.
“I am especially interested in the juxtaposition of technology against nature and in the constant changes that occur within an urban environment,” she said.
Landau grew up in the Bronx and spent two years in Santa Monica before moving to the Bay Area in 1961 to attend UC Berkeley.
“I always considered myself an artist. My kindergarten teacher suggested to my mother that I attend art classes at the People’s Art Center run by the MOMA in Manhattan. I took Saturday classes there for eight years,” she said. She also attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan.
The artists who most inspire Landau are, not surprisingly, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Richard Diebenkorn. Classic, pure, colorful and shapely. Artists with a keen eye to their environment. In her way, Landau similarly captures the urban scene through depictions of things mundane and prosaic, the commonplace images in front of us daily that we often ignore or cast off as background, unworthy of our actual attention. Yet, these images are part of daily life, and the mere mention of them in paint by this artist serves to remind that there is tangible beauty in all things, if we look closely enough.
Construction sites, bridges and skylines, concrete, and traffic jams, all possess light and matter, rhythmic pattern and vital energy. Like a musical arrangement, elements fall into place to create an experience of mood and setting as a whole. With titles like Another View, The Real Thing, Is This San Francisco?, and Something Happening Here, Landau is asking us to look, as she is looking, at our immediate surroundings. To pay attention to the most garden-variety, unexceptional scene and render it meaningful. Primarily absent of people, each painting presents a snapshot of human impact and presence in a densely populated metropolis as a consequence, nonetheless.
Landau’s color schemes further suggest the seeming monotone of the urban scape in hues of gray, black, blue, and white. At times, brighter colors break through from a sunset, a workman’s t-shirt, or the reflective waters of the Bay. Those peeks of color serve to remind again of the vibrancy hidden underneath the surface of routine life. A natural geometry of manmade, intersecting lines and shapes fill her square canvases, giving an illusion that we are taking the view through a window of a high rise; perhaps as voyeurs, perhaps in a contemplative break from a busy day.
Landau’s paintings are not just random scenes, either. They are an autobiographical chronicle, reflections of her time and life. They are recorded moments in San Francisco, Italy, or wherever she happens to be at any given time. The pandemic has consequently limited her vision to mostly her own home neighborhood of Bernal Heights and the nearby Mission District. Her current painting is a view of Mission Street from the corner of Third Street, facing east.
Landau likes to work in her studio mostly at night, with her radio tuned to KPFA for classical music, news, and talk shows to keep her mind stimulated and connected to subject matter as she paints. Working from her own photographs, the artist paints in simple terms with intention and economy. Her stretched canvases come to life from acrylics mixed and stored in small plastic yogurt containers with lids. She begins with a pencil drawing, blocking the shapes in with color, then works the painting into smaller shapes and finer details. Each painting, on average, requires about a month to complete.
Landau and her husband, street painter Anthony Holdsworth, profiled by 48 Hills in June, will exhibit together at Luna Rienne Gallery in a show titled, “Twenty-Twenty Vision,” from Oct. 2 – Oct. 30. The SFMOMA Artists Gallery at Fort Mason Center, which will be closing in Dec. due to pandemic imposed budget cuts, will feature some of Landau’s paintings as part of a final sale through Oct 15. For more information, visit her website at mesart.com/blandau.