Autobiographical Statement, 1997-2010
I have had a wonderful and successful career as a painter since 1965. My work is rooted in the modernist tradition of 20th-Century art.
My inspiration has been my conviction that modern painting is fueled by the combination of tradition and the realities of modern life. Spirituality and feeling are the basic subjects of my work. They are depictions of intuitive expressions using color as language, and the landscape (God's earth) as a metaphor for the arena of life. The revelation of a primal image that delivers an immediate response in the viewer is my goal. Hopefully my paintings convey a felt perception of life, an awareness of the history of art, and a clear expression of my passion and sense of spirituality. I sense a visual music that externalizes what I feel within me and in the air.
I was born in the Bronx on January 9, 1947. I was my brother's fifth birthday present, the second of my parents two sons born on January ninth. My parents were good hardworking people. My mother was born in 1914, on the Lower East Side in Manhattan and my father was born in 1912 in Denver, Colorado. Our family of four was very close, I idolized my brother and older cousins. I had a happy childhood filled with friends and relatives and I always drew pictures as a child.
As a teenager I was inspired to pursue a career as an artist. When I was about fourteen I made my first real paintings. Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse, Miro and especially Picasso and the Abstract Expressionists were important influences on my work. In 1961 I was inspired by a Life Magazine article on the Abstract Expressionists notably: Pollock, de Kooning, Gottlieb, Hofmann, Rothko, Still, Motherwell and Kline.
After several stints at the Art Students League, and a brief college career at the Kansas City Art Institute (1963), The San Francisco Art Institute (1964-65), and the University of California at Berkeley (1964), my professional life as a painter began in New York City during the Summer of 1965. During the summer and early fall of 1965 I rented several apartments and lofts on the Lower East Side. Finally in November 1965 I rented a loft with a friend of mine (a sculptor) in a building on Spring Street and Lower Broadway in Manhattan. A period of hardship including a devastating studio fire in February 1966 followed.
However, when I was nineteen, by the Fall of 1966, after completing a major series of hard-edge border paintings, success as a painter began to materialize. The famous architect and collector Philip Johnson and the famous collector Robert Scull each acquired large paintings of mine. The Sheldon Memorial Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska acquired a painting of mine for its permanent collection. My circle of artistic friends and colleagues continued to grow throughout this period.
During the summer of 1967 when I was twenty, I rented a studio on the Bowery where I continued painting large abstract paintings. I was invited to participate in the Whitney Annual at the end of the year. My painting The Howl of Terror, hung opposite the Larry Poons painting and Larry and I met and became friends. I had two drawings and two poems published by the Letter Edged in Black Press. My work attracted considerable attention and I was invited to participate in important group exhibitions at the Bykert, Bianchini, and Park Place Galleries in New York; and my work was included in several publications notably an Esquire Magazine article on young artists in the Robert Scull collection.
I had a series of different and interesting jobs, from 1965 through the Fall of 1968. I worked for the Something Else Press, where I was introduced to Concrete Poetry and Conceptual Art. I was a commercial artist in an advertising agency, and I met many excellent illustrators. I worked for an art delivery service and I also worked for several art galleries, (Pace, Kornblee), helping them hang and install exhibitions.
In April 1968 I was included in an important Newsweek Magazine article on my generation of young artists with a color reproduction of my abstract landscape painting Cheat River. In the Fall of 1968, I was a guest instructor of painting at Bennington College in Vermont. As a regular at Max's Kansas City from 1966 to 1970 as well as in the seventies , the Spring St. Bar and One University Place, I met and befriended many of the great artists and interesting characters of my time.
In 1969, I was awarded the William and Noma Copley (Cassandra) Foundation Grant in painting and I was invited to publish a silk-screen print for Rosa Esman's New York Ten portfolio. I joined the David Whitney Gallery in the Spring, and mine was the first one-man show at his new gallery in October 1969. I was in a two-man show there in 1970 (with Neil Jenney) and I had my second one-man show there in May, 1971. During the period between 1970 and 1971 I also had solo exhibitions with the Joseph Helman Gallery in St. Louis, the New Gallery in Cleveland, the Jack Glenn Gallery in Corona Del Mar, CA. and with Jim and Betty Corcoran Gallery in Coral Gables.
When I began to show my work with David Whitney in 1969, I was painting stained abstractions, bordered by bands of color painted on the edges. I experimented with calligraphy and gestures painted in the bands. Often the stained areas are organized as landscape; with sky at the top, a middle section that looks like mountains with a horizon line and the ground at the bottom.
The two major tendencies in my work were landscape and linear abstractions. My natural tendency was toward color and abstraction. The two tendencies in my work came together in my stained band paintings that I have continued to this day. I paint abstract landscapes to express my feelings that nature which symbolizes truth, beauty and freedom to me is endangered by indifference, overdevelopment and ecological disaster.
By 1970, my work had been shown on both coasts in the United States and in West Germany. Toward the Unknown, 1969, a dark blue, 9' x 14', painting of mine was acquired by the Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen in Munich, and Diamond Lake, 1969, a 9 x 14' stained band painting of mine was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and in 1972 was exhibited in the lobby for about a year.
By the age of twenty two I found myself able to make a living from my work. My paintings were included in many group shows all over the world and were also included in several art magazine articles and publications. By the time I joined Andre Emmerich's Gallery and my mother died in April 1972, I was at twenty five, already a veteran with six solo shows, numerous appearances in important museum exhibitions including two Whitney Biennials and my work was in several permanent and private collections. I exhibited my work at the Andre Emmerich Gallery from 1972 until 1977. I had one-man shows there in 1973, 1974, and 1975. I also had solo shows with the Janie C. Lee Gallery in Houston and Jim and Betty Corcoran Gallery in Coral Gables.
During the years 1972-1985, my work was evolving and experimental. My travels to the Caribbean, Utah, Arizona, California, and upstate New York, directly inspired my paintings. I was invited to teach painting and fine arts at the School of Visual Arts in 1975. I taught there for fifteen years until 1989. My two sons, Matthew and Noah were born in New York City in 1976 and 1979 respectively, and live with my wife and me at our loft on Desbrosses St. in New York City. During that period I had one man exhibitions of my work with the Sarah Rentschler Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan, in 1978 and 1979, the Barbara Kornblatt Gallery in Baltimore and Washington DC. in 1976 and 1978, the Medici-Berensen Gallery and the Jim and Betty Corcoran Gallery in Miami and Coral Gablesin 1976 and 1979 and the Linda Farris Gallery in 1978 and 1979. I joined the Charles Cowles Gallery in December 1979 before he opened to the public in April, 1980. I exhibited my work there from 1979 to 1985. I had one-man exhibitions there in 1980, 1982, 1983 and 1984.
As my work changed and grew during the eighties my paint surfaces got thicker and crustier. I stopped staining for a while. I painted the landscape as metaphor for my life. I was working with squeegees and large broad sweeping strokes. I made angry volcanoes, remote and distant mountains, cool deep blue seas, pale sunrise, darks before the dawn and tall trees with colorful valleys . I painted snow and full moons and I tried to paint the rain. During the Spring of 1983, my painting, Portal to Paradise, 1982, 107"x79", was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. My paintings during this period were the most overt and specific landscapes that I have exhibited. I returned to stained abstractions in 1984 because it felt right.
I had two very successful exhibitions of my new work in Chicago and Miami in 1985. From 1986 to 1992 I exhibited my paintings at the Stephen Haller Gallery in New York City. These shows produced a feature article on my work in Arts Magazine (March 1987) and several good reviews. I had one-man exhibitions there in 1987, 1988, 1989, and 1990.
In 1994 I began teaching at the Art Students League. I had solo exhibitions of my paintings at the Stephen Rosenberg Gallery and the Nicholas Alexander Gallery. I moderated two panel discussions on the crisis facing abstract painting in an indifferent world. In 1995 I was awarded a Pollock/Krasner Foundation Grant for painting and also in 1995 I curated an exhibition of abstract painting from the late sixties/early seventies, called "Seven Painters" at the Nicholas/Alexander Gallery which was well received and well reviewed. In 1996 I had solo exhibitions of my new paintings in Boca Raton, Florida and Sapporo, Japan. While in Japan I gave lectures on European Modernist and American Abstract Expressionist, Colorfield and Lyrical Abstractionist Painting, at the Hokkaido Women's College in Sapporo.
I have had one-man exhibitions of my paintings in galleries in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cologne, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sapporo, Seattle, St. Louis, Washington DC., among other places, my paintings have been seen and exhibited in galleries, museums and institutions in Beijing, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Cologne, Havana, Manila, Munich, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Paris and elsewhere. In 1988 I had a 10 year (1978-1988) retrospective exhibition at the Brunnier Museum in Ames, Iowa. In 2007 I had a major retrospective exhibition at The Butler Institute of American Art: Ronnie Landfield: Paintings From Five Decades.
My work is intuitive, color is the language I use to express my feelings. Nature inspires the imagery in my paintings and they are expressions of spirit, informed and guided by God. When my paintings succeed they express the mystery of the spirit, emotions, reverence of the awesome power of the universe, through surface, shapes and color. When they matter they realize what I feel within me and touch the observer through positive emotion. The thing is they are always changing.
I've always admired Chinese Landscape painting for its beauty, elegance, simplicity and complexity. I admire it because it contains multiple painting styles; (combining geometric boxes (chops), borders and calligraphy;) with landscape techniques that are remarkably similar to modern stain painting. In retrospect, I have realized what an important inspiration Chinese Landscape painting has also been to my work.
In the years since my first solo exhibition in 1969, I have had sixty-five solo exhibitions, twenty six in New York City. My paintings are in the permanent collections of major museums and universities throughout the country. My work is also in many private and corporate collections.