Artist Bob Landström in his studio. (Photos by Isadora Pennington)

On the outside, Bob Landström’s house is a nicely updated mid-century ranch like many others on the block. Large picture windows reveal a modern interior, and the walls showcase vibrant paintings everywhere you look. When I arrived on a cool winter day, I was greeted by exuberant dogs before being led downstairs into Landström’s bright studio space.

There, in the welcoming and cool space, completed works grace the walls. Evocative symbols and high key colors entice viewers to draw near. Up close the texture of the material of Landström’s paintings adds a sort of energy to the space. Considering himself an abstract painter, his works often contain a mix of segmented lines, partially obscured figures, both existing and imagined symbols, and snippets of prose and formulae. 

The numbers and words in a given work might not always be related, explained Landström. He often uses these components alongside his own language of invented symbols as graphic elements within the plastic space of his composition, rather than all directly related in an effort to express a complete thought. Leaving phrases and computation unfinished lends an added evocativeness to his pieces, asking the viewer to seek out their own interpretation of the story and meaning of the work.

“I am interested in the things behind things,” explained Landström. “I like to take what’s normally unseen and make it seen.” 

His interest in metaphysics and alchemy comes to life in his art. Landström’s current body of work “Multiverse” plays on the concept of multiple realities coexisting outside of our ability to perceive them, so in his paintings figures are often mostly obscured, existing in two places at once, and layered atop and between symbols and iconography. “It’s almost impossible for it not to be the case,” he continued. Captivated by the idea, he has been “playing” with the concept in a series of between 35 to 40 finished works. 

The curiosity and playfulness that Landström brings to his paintings also pushed him to consider alternate materials beyond the typical paint and brush. For many years he used traditional mediums to create his works, but increasingly he felt compelled to infuse pigment with soil in a way that more accurately spoke to his interest in transformation and transmutation.  Oftentimes that meant that he would literally collect dirt from wherever he was painting and mix it into his paint. 

“Thinking about it and developing the technique and everything, I came across the idea of using volcanic rock, igneous rock, because of the state change that’s involved. It’s sort of an alchemical process because at one point it’s liquid inside the earth, and now it’s a solid as I hold it in my hands,” explained Landström. “The state change and that alchemical nature of it really resonated with me. I’ve painted that way ever since, and that was 25 or 30 years ago.”

Sourcing from deposits deep underground beneath the Navajo Nation lands in the American Southwest, the igneous rock Landström uses in his work is estimated to be around 30 million years old. While the material is typically used for commercial purposes, with some convincing he was able to secure regular deliveries of smaller quantities for his artwork. 

Completing roughly 40 paintings a year, each one taking no longer than 3 or 4 days, Landström estimates that he purchases around 150 gallons of raw material annually. Once it arrives in his studio, he processes the grey, granular stone and adds his chosen pigment. A rainbow of colored rock is then carefully portioned out into Tupperware containers which are neatly stacked on shelves in his workspace, ready to become art. 

Describing his compositions as if they were pages from the mental notebook that lives in his head, Landström says the ideas occur to him at random throughout his daily life. “It’s a big distraction, quite frankly,” said Landström wryly. He carries sketchbooks everywhere he goes, and it’s common to find those notebooks filled with ideas on his bedside table, in his car, and scattered throughout his home. 

An electrical engineer by trade, I interviewed Landström at a crucial moment in his career: mere weeks before he officially quit his day job to pursue his art full time. “I’ve been mostly in my own head, working in my studio,” said Landström. Pulling long hours working late into the night after his shifts at work have proven to be rather draining, and the shift to full time artist is a welcome one. 

While Landström’s process is, to a certain extent, fluid and changeable, the application of his matter paint to canvas is time-sensitive and requires forethought and planning. You see, when mixed with polymer emulsion, the igneous rock exists in a liquid form. It can be deposited onto the surface of a work with palette knives and other similar tools. Soon after application the material begins to dry and loses its flexibility, becoming solid and immovable after only a few days.

In addition to relying on pre-planning in his digital sketches, Landström also employs a reductive technique in which he scrapes away portions of the design. This allows him to add the layered effect which is so evident in his works. The figures, which he refers to as ‘totems,’ offer a contrast between the abstract iconography and phrases that flow through his pieces. “I like that kind of tension,” said Landström.

Landström is represented by Alan Avery Art Company locally, as well as the Whiteroom in New York City, and Chase Edwards Contemporary in Palm Beach, Florida. Landström is currently working on his Multiverse collection as well as a two-person show in Los Angeles debuting this summer.

For more about the artist, visit boblandstrom.com.

Isadora Pennington

Isadora Pennington is a writer and photographer based in Atlanta.