in my humble opinion

Bill Landau

The art of conversation

Posted 1/31/24

It’s winter. Beautiful, unpredictable and mercurial, winter has a mind of its own and it doesn’t always jibe with my plans. As the annual January Thaw began last week and temps rose …

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in my humble opinion

Bill Landau

The art of conversation


It’s winter. Beautiful, unpredictable and mercurial, winter has a mind of its own and it doesn’t always jibe with my plans. As the annual January Thaw began last week and temps rose exponentially, outdoor events that I had penciled in began to cascade like dominoes across the Upper Delaware River region. I exchanged my parka for a hoodie, my knit hat for a cap, and took the dog for a walk—while figuratively scrolling through the Rolodex in my mind.

Before long, I took note of an old note that has lingered in the recesses of my brain for more than a decade. “Call Bill Landau,” I heard whispered in the trees. “His artwork is unique. Find out what makes him tick.” 

Steering the dog toward home, I texted Bill and made plans to meet up at Rafters Tavern in Callicoon, NY, where Landau had just installed an exhibition that exemplifies the artist himself: bright, witty, clever and colorful. Some-call-him-William/some-call-him-Billy and some-just-call-him-Bill has been starting conversations for years, using an old printing press, paintbrushes, fabric and ink to convey his sharp, sometimes puntastic (did I just coin a word?) observations of the world. 

After exchanging pleasantries, I alluded to the change in the weather, which had opened the door for our chat. “Gotta love Mother Nature, right? Never know what she’s got on the agenda,” I quipped, while getting the dog settled and checking out the 20-odd pieces of original art adorning the tavern walls.

“The truth of the matter is that I love the outdoors,” Bill said. “It has always been a tremendous influence for me. It’s part of my Catskills mentality. I spent my summers up here, where my family had a log cabin in Kauneonga Lake.”

It was on those visits to the country—so different from his childhood home in Brooklyn—Landau was inspired by nature from a very young age. 

“Being exposed to blue sky and rolling hills, time spent on a lake in the open air was extraordinary. Seeing a salamander in the road, observing small-mouthed bass or fresh-water mussels living under the rocks, even the leaves beginning to change. In this day and age, I want and need that more and more. It affects my work, and my attitude. 

“The river is my pal; I walk along the river five to seven times a week. I’m passionate about it and I take that passion home with me and paint and print.”

Since Landau’s pieces are a combination of illustrations and words, I wondered aloud how his love of nature inspired the palette that he then combines with phrases, song lyric mash-ups and those ever-present puns. 

“It could be a stripe in the sky, a shadow on the road. It could be the leaf changing from green to brown. I’m never trying to do something mentally or emotionally. I think it happens almost bodily—morphologically and organically.” 

Landau’s use of color is often subtle, sometimes bold and always inspired by the world around him. Pointing to a piece hanging on the wall, Bill referenced the use of color. 

“How did I create that color green? I got it here. All of those greens. Muddy green, smoky green… Greens that are not brilliant are more my thing, and they really are what surrounds us. We have room to see it here [in the country] and bring it to the next venture. I find it a delight.”

And then there are the words.

In addition to Landau’s career as a science teacher, where he employed drawing to illustrate a point, he was also involved in the printing industry and found a way to “marry color, science, size and shape.”  

When asked what inspired him to begin using words and phrases to express himself, Landau grew pensive.

“It was the [terrorist attacks] on 9/11/2001. That evening I went into the attic, found my old printing press and I printed the words ‘In the Still of the Night’ with two rusted pieces of metal spouting smoke. I placed it on [the school] campus where everyone could see it.”

That first piece, like so many others to follow, was not only  the way the artist shared an aspect of himself, but also  served to spark conversations with others.

“Someone once said ‘an artist is always alone, even when he’s in the company of others,’ and should be. The artist should be thinking, and plotting—planning and sharing. As for the words, once I paint an image or a background I wonder if I should leave it alone, and the answer is always no, I can’t. 

“Part of it is being social. Part of it is being friendly. Part of it comes from leaning against a jukebox in a cantina as a kid in a bungalow colony, singing along to the music that influenced my young mind. The very first song that I memorized was Nat King Cole’s ‘Nature Boy.’ Music has always influenced me and that has not stopped.”

Words have been spilling out of Landau’s head and landing on the boards ever since. Sometimes serious, occasionally political, frequently (IMHO) irreverent and often laced with humor, the letters of the alphabet are laboriously placed in the old, unwieldy printing press, which has a story of its own, and then arranged with intention and thoughtfulness—inked, pressed and inked again. 

Whether it’s an original portmanteau, food for thought, or an amusing misheard, mashed-up lyric, the words play out across the wooden planks that Landau fashions by hand in his indoor/outdoor studio and now hang in Callicoon, NY. 

The hitch? Rafters will be closed for its annual winter break until March, when the public will once again have an opportunity to view and enjoy Bill Landau’s art of conversation. 

If I had to describe the wait in one word, it would be “anticipation.” 

Fun fact: “January Thaw” appears to be more than folklore: Although the thaw does not occur at a fixed time, climatologists note the most frequent thaws occur from January 19 to January 28. The so-called thaw is most noticeable in the eastern United States, but it can be traced as far west as Missouri.

Ask the Google: Q—What the heck is a portmanteau? 

A—It’s a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others. Think motel (motor and hotel) or brunch (from breakfast and lunch).

in my humble opinion, bill landau , art of conversation


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