March 29, 2023

LOS ANGELES – Brandon D. Landers is not represented by a gallery. He doesn’t have a website. He does his art in a small cabin behind a friend’s house in Bakersfield, California, and sleeps on an upper bed over the stacked canvases and splatters of paint.

36-year-old Landers, who grew up in South Los Angeles, isn’t sure he’s ready for prime time. He was also pleased with his last job teaching art to young children at Franklin Elementary School in Bakersfield.

But now that his work can be seen in both Hammer and Huntington’s joint biennial “Made in LA 2020: a version” until August 1st, Landers may not be able to postpone his professional development much longer. As museums reopened and people visit the exhibitions, his work has caught the attention of collectors, dealers and curators.

“The response was really strong and immediate,” said Connie Butler, the hammer’s chief curator. “At a moment when there is so much figuration in the art world, there is something extremely human and fully embodied in these images of black life.”

The Hammer received inquiries about Landers once or twice a week, Butler said, “but it stopped everyone.”

During a recent interview in Los Angeles, lanky in a white t-shirt and baseball cap, Landers said he was working towards the idea of ​​joining a gallery one day. “As soon as I get into a bigger studio and feel more comfortable, I’ll make that decision,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of it now, but I do because I love this stuff.”

This hesitation reflects Landers’ greater ambivalence; he wants to be part of the art world, but not necessarily of the art market, which he associates with “shark” and loss of control. (It was two months before he agreed to be photographed.) “I like to stay under the radar,” he said. “I’m not entirely prepared.”

He’s also adjusting to life without his mother, who died in March aged 55, without ever seeing Landers’ work on “Made in LA” (which was postponed until April 17 by the pandemic). As an only child, Landers was closely associated with her.

He credits his mother for keeping him out of trouble – “She had to pick me up from street corners when I was in the wrong place at the wrong time” – and persevering despite a period when they were homeless.

“She just never gave up,” he says. “We moved a couple of times.”

Landers’ paintings are steeped in this harsh experience and populated by the many people who make up his support system; the cousins ​​hanging out at the local Shell gas station before and after parties. His friends Ronnie and Dante. Relatives and their dogs.

“I try to include family and friends,” Landers said, “my relationship with my community. I want to write them down in history. “

Sockets reappear in his paintings, a reference to the colloquial “Are you plugged in?” To which he replies: “I am the socket.”

The canvases have a collage quality, because Landers shapes the thickly applied oil paint with a spatula, thus creating irregular surfaces. His portraits and scenes have an alternate reality with toothy grins, distorted physical proportions, and backward-facing text.

“This constant reflection of reality makes the paintings look like portals,” said Lauren Mackler, an independent curator who worked with Myriam Ben Salah to organize “Made in LA”, the clustered portraits and the way all the figures are related to each other . The surrealism in the pictures through the loss of perspective – you cannot place the physics of space in it. “

Mackler and Ben Salah made repeated trips to Landers’ studio and were absorbed by work. “We knew right away that he was an artist we’d love to present,” said Mackler. “There is this striking individualism in his practice because it seems so lonely.”

Art kept Landers company during his childhood. Whenever he ran errands with his mother, he drew all day with whatever was on hand – a pencil, sticky notes. Inspired by his uncle who collected Hot Wheels and GI Joes, Landers also started collecting action figures that he drew.

After injuring his wrists in a fall from a tree in 11th grade, Landers could no longer play basketball and turned to the arts.

At California State University in Bakersfield, where he received his bachelor’s degree, he studied art history and worked at the children’s center. After school he got a job as an educator at the Bakersfield Museum of Art.

“They just knew this was different,” said Vikki Cruz, a former curator at the Bakersfield Museum who gave Landers his first job in the art world helping with installations. “This guy goes everywhere – he’s going to explode.”

“He’s been working all the time,” added Cruz, now curatorial administrator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “He created this plaster sink – a lot of three-dimensional work. Art came before everything else. “

Landers has so far focused on painting, stretching his own canvases, buying the cheapest paint he can find (sometimes at art and craft stores like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby), and using the spatula that textured his work Gives patina. “I’ll scratch away,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like I’m pouring a cake.”

He has had solo shows at a couple of small galleries in Los Angeles – Club Pro in 2017 and M + B Gallery in 2019, with work that the Los Angeles Times called “refreshingly blunt”.

In 2019, Carlye Packer from the now defunct Club Pro curated a selection of Landers’ paintings for the Los Angeles Felix Angeles art fair at the request of one of the fair’s founders, Dean Valentine, who sits on the Hammer Advisory Board and owns the artist’s works.

“You could tell immediately that the use of color was incredibly expressive,” said Valentine. “Whether it was an interior or a seated figure, there was an immense feeling in the work. They all seemed to come from childhood memories. “

Valentin was also impressed with the humility of Landers’ studio, which he attended with Ali Subotnick, a former Hammer curator. “To show us one painting, he had to move 30 other paintings,” said Valentine. “I really thought that Brandon was going to be a central painter right now.”

Lander’s work as an art teacher at Franklin Elementary has given him tremendous satisfaction. “I just love it there,” he said. “The energy, the feeling of daily novelty, the creativity. I am animated. “

His mother was able to watch an online “Lunchtime Art Talk” in the Hammer on February 10, during which Erin Christovale, a deputy curator of the museum, described Landers’ depiction of everyday life in Los Angeles as “the black everyday man” and said: she sees in it aspects of the artists Romare Bearden, Robert Colescott, Clementine Hunter and Kerry James Marshall.

“Landers renders yellows, browns, blacks and reds to represent the wealth and diverse skin tones of Black Angelenos and thus also the royal descendants of the Great Migration,” said Christovale during the conversation. “When I step into the Landers universe, I am struck by the way intimacy and familiarity meet the grotesque and sometimes violent, the way characters are animated, powered by cartoons from the ’90s and John Singleton films to look at the audience. “

“Landers is an astronaut,” she added, “who goes into the future.”

He hopes to finally have a real studio. At the moment he is getting by in his hut, which is about 300 square meters and costs $ 300 a month. There is no kitchen, just a toaster – where he makes frozen pizza – and a hotplate on which he boils water for pasta. If his slight stature suggests that Landers is malnourished, it may be because he doesn’t think of food first. He focuses on the art.

“I was hungry, but I don’t even notice,” Landers said. “Because I’m moving and that fills me.”